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In re Echeles

June 5, 1970

IN THE MATTER OF JULIUS LUCIUS ECHELES, AN ATTORNEY


Fairchild and Kerner, Circuit Judges, and Steckler,*fn1 District Judge.

Author: Steckler

STECKLER, District Judge.

This is an appeal from the dismissal of a disciplinary proceeding against Julius Lucius Echeles, a member of the bar of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

The petition for disciplinary action was filed by the United States Attorney pursuant to Rule 8 of the General Rules of the District Court.*fn2

The primary issue presented is whether the three-judge Executive Committee of the District Court erroneously construed this Court's opinion in In re Echeles, 374 F.2d 780 (7th Cir. 1967). By its order of October 7, 1968, the Committee concluded that it had no alternative under this Court's interpretation of the District Court's existing rules to dismissing the proceedings against the respondent, although it found that the respondent's pattern of conduct obviously fell far short of compliance with his admission oath. In re Echeles, 291 F. Supp. 307 (N.D.Ill.1968).*fn3

Two supplemental issues are presented by the respondent's motion to dismiss the appeal, on the grounds that the United States Attorney has no standing to prosecute the appeal, and that the notice of appeal was filed by the United States Attorney on behalf of the United States of America. In support of the latter ground, respondent states that the United States of America was never a party to the proceeding in the District Court; that it did not attempt to intervene in the proceeding, nor did it seek authorization to take an appeal from the decision of the Executive Committee.

Before considering the substantive issue raised by this appeal, the United States' standing to appeal and the United States Attorney's standing to prosecute the appeal will be determined.

Preliminarily, it would be well to note that disbarment and suspension proceedings are neither civil nor criminal in nature but are special proceedings, sui generis, and result from the inherent power of courts over their officers. Such proceedings are not lawsuits between parties litigant but rather are in the nature of an inquest or inquiry as to the conduct of the respondent. They are not for the purpose of punishment, but rather seek to determine the fitness of an officer of the court to continue in that capacity and to protect the courts and the public from the official ministration of persons unfit to practice. Ex parte Wall, 107 U.S. 265, 2 S. Ct. 569, 27 L. Ed. 552 (1882). Thus the real question at issue in a disbarment proceeding is the public interest and an attorney's right to continue to practice a profession imbued with public trust. In re Fisher, 179 F.2d 361 (7th Cir. 1950), cert. denied sub nom. Kerner, et al. v. Fisher, 340 U.S. 825, 71 S. Ct. 59, 95 L. Ed. 606 (1950).

In the federal system there is no established uniform procedure for suspension and disbarment proceedings in the district courts; the matter is left to the individual judicial districts. Here the District Court appropriately has adopted a local rule defining the grounds upon which suspension or disbarment of an attorney may be had and the procedure to be followed. However, the essential requirements of any such proceeding are notice and the opportunity to be heard. In re Ruffalo, 390 U.S. 544, 88 S. Ct. 1222, 20 L. Ed. 2d 117 (1967).

We agree with the respondent that the United States of America was not a party to the proceeding below, and therefore has no standing to bring this appeal. Aside from the notice of appeal, nothing in the record indicates that the United States of America as a party has an interest in the matter. However, while technically inaccurate, we regard the form of the notice in the name of the United States of America to be nonprejudicial under the circumstances. Any other conclusion would unnecessarily exalt form over substance.

The second supplemental issue concerns the right of the United States Attorney himself to appeal the decision of the Executive Committee, with its permission.

Both the respondent and the United States Attorney have cited this Court's opinion in In re Teitelbaum, 253 F.2d 1 (7th Cir. 1958), as support for their opposing contentions in regard to the United States Attorney's right to appeal. Respondent contends that Teitelbaum precludes the instant appeal, while the United States Attorney reads Teitelbaum as permitting an appeal when, as here, permission is given.

In Teitelbaum it was held that where the United States Attorney requested and received permission to file with the District Court a petition for disbarment of an attorney, and the Court denied the petition for disbarment, the United States Attorney had no standing as a party or otherwise to file a notice of appeal to this Court. It was noted, however, that the United States Attorney made no request of the District Court for permission to prosecute the appeal nor had the District Court authorized the appeal. The United States Attorney acted on his own authority. Such is not the case in this appeal. Here the District Court initially requested the United States Attorney to present evidence before the Executive Committee in the disciplinary proceedings, and thereafter on entering its order dismissing the proceedings, authorized the United States Attorney to continue in the matter. On October 7, 1968, the day the Executive Committee entered its order dismissing the proceeding, the presiding member of the Committee, the Chief Judge of the District Court, authorized the United States Attorney, by letter, to take any appeal from the Executive Committee's order he might determine to take.

As this Court noted in Teitelbaum, supra, "the responsibility of maintaining the integrity of the bar * * * rests in the Court itself." 253 F.2d at 2. Confronted with that responsibility, the Executive Committee, we believe, was persuaded to place itself in the anomolous position of ruling contrary to its findings because it was convinced by argument of respondent's counsel that it had no alternative under this Court's interpretation of the District Court's existing rules. We regard the Committee's authorization of the United States Attorney to appeal from such a result as a step toward fulfilling its responsibility to maintain the ...


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