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IN RE SARELAS

June 5, 1973

IN THE MATTER OF PETER S. SARELAS, AN ATTORNEY.


MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON PETITION FOR DISCIPLINARY ACTION

Respondent is an attorney admitted to the bar of this court. In a disciplinary proceeding brought by The Chicago Bar Association, he was suspended from the practice of law for a period of two years having ". . . exhibited a continuous course of conduct . . . by instituting groundless lawsuits against the members of the bar, the bench, and laymen . . ." who crossed him, and thereby bringing the legal profession and the judiciary into disrepute. In re Sarelas, 50 Ill.2d 87, 98-99, 277 N.E.2d 313, 318-319 (1971).

There is no need to review here the nature of and the allegations contained in respondent's lawsuits even though a recitation of them furnishes an exegesis of the basis of the charge. The opinion of the Illinois Supreme Court clearly and succinctly summarizes at least fifteen suits filed by the respondent within a decade, all of which contained abusive and vituperative language and all of which were dismissed by the courts in which they were filed.

Respondent has broadly challenged almost every aspect of this disciplinary proceeding. Consequently, the opinion of this court will be of equally broad scope even though respondent's specific contentions may not be mentioned.

AUTHORITY OF THE COURT

The power of a court to suspend an attorney from practice before that court is too well established to conceivably be doubted. The considerations involved when this action is taken were well summarized by Chief Justice Marshall one and one-half centuries ago:

    "On one hand, the profession of an attorney is
  of great importance to an individual, and the
  prosperity of his whole life may depend on its
  exercise.
  The right to exercise it ought not to be lightly
  or capriciously taken from him. On the other, it
  is extremely desirable that the respectability of
  the bar should be maintained, and that its
  harmony with the bench should be preserved. For
  these objects, some controlling power, some
  discretion, ought to reside in the court. This
  discretion ought to be exercised with great
  moderation and judgment; but it must be
  exercised. . . ." Ex parte Burr, 22 U.S. (9
  Wheat.) 529, 529-530, 6 L.Ed. 152 (1824).

The purposes for which the power to suspend is exercised have long been recognized to be of such paramount importance that any form of misconduct which might impair the trust and confidence of the public in the legal profession and in the integrity of the courts may be the occasion for disciplinary action. The Supreme Court long ago clearly and simply enunciated this principle:

    "We do not doubt the power of the court to
  punish attorneys as officers of the same, for
  misbehavior in the practice of the profession.
  This power has been recognized and enforced ever
  since the organization of the courts, and the
  admission of attorneys to practice therein. If
  guilty of fraud against their clients, or of
  stirring up litigation by corrupt devices, or
  using the forms of law to further the ends of
  injustice; in fine, for the commission of any
  other act of official or personal dishonesty or
  oppression, they become subject to the summary
  jurisdiction of the court. Indeed, in every
  instance where an attorney is charged by
  affidavit with fraud or malpractice in his
  profession, contrary to the principles of justice
  and common honesty, the court, on motion, will
  order him to appear and answer, and deal with him
  according as the facts may appear in the case."
  Ex parte Bradley, 74 U.S. (7 Wall.) 364, 374, 19
  L.Ed. 214 (1868).

A federal court has the duty to exercise its "controlling power" to suspend an attorney in order to maintain the respectability of and confidence in the bar when an attorney has been previously suspended by a state court. The judgment of the state court automatically casts grave doubt upon the fitness of the attorney to continue to be a member of the profession because it carries an inherent inference of the absence of the personal and professional qualities which an attorney must at all times possess. Selling v. Radford, 243 U.S. 46, 37 S.Ct. 377, 61 L.Ed. 585 (1917).

Only if an examination of the record upon which the state court judgment is based renders it suspect will a federal court not recognize and follow it. Three conditions have been held to negate the conclusive effect of a state court judgment of suspension:

  "1. That the state procedure, from want of notice
  or opportunity to be heard, was wanting in due
  process; 2, that there was such an infirmity of
  proof as to facts found to have established the
  want of fair private and professional character
  as to give rise to a clear conviction on our part
  that we could not, consistently with our duty,
  accept as final the conclusion on that subject;
  or 3, that some other grave reason existed which
  should convince us that to allow the natural
  consequences of the judgment to have their effect
  would conflict with the duty which rests upon us
  not to disbar except upon the conviction that,
  under the principles of right and justice, we
  were constrained to do so. Id., at 51, 37 S.Ct.
  at 379.

More recent decisions indicate that the standards of Selling ". . . authoritatively expounded . . . the responsibility that remains in the federal judiciary. . . ." Theard v. United States, 354 U.S. 278, 282, 77 S.Ct. 1274, 1277, 1 L.Ed.2d 1342 (1957). The great respect and deference which federal courts continue to give to decisions of the state courts regulating the conduct of attorneys admitted to practice before them is best illustrated by the most recent Supreme Court review of a federal disciplinary proceeding, In re Ruffalo, 390 U.S. 544, 88 S.Ct. 1222, 20 L.Ed.2d 117 (1968). Rather than determining whether the conduct of the attorney justified his suspension from the Ohio bar as the concurring opinion would have done, id. at 552, 88 S.Ct. 1222 (White and Marshall, JJ. concurring), the majority of Court carefully premised its decision not to give the Ohio judgment conclusive effect upon the reason that the attorney was not given timely notice of the grounds for which he was ultimately suspended in accordance with the first requirement of Selling. In sum, whether or not an attorney's acts indicate a lack of the upright professional and private character necessary to demonstrate or to maintain his good standing remains a matter of judgment for the states to determine for themselves within, of course, the broad confines of due process protection of fundamental freedoms. Law Students Civil Rights Research Counsel, Inc. v. Wadmond, 401 U.S. 154, 91 S.Ct. 720, 27 L.Ed.2d 749 (1971) (New York bar admission screening procedures valid upon their face); In re Stolar, 401 U.S. 23, 91 S.Ct. 713, 27 L.Ed.2d 657 (1971) (political association); Baird v. State Bar of Arizona, 401 U.S. 1, 91 S.Ct. 702, 27 L.Ed.2d 639 (1971); id. ...


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