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In Re Silvern



Disciplinary proceedings.


Petitioner, Harold Silvern, was disbarred upon consent on April 11, 1974, shortly after the United States Court of Appeals affirmed his conviction on two counts of mail fraud and one of conspiracy (United States v. Silvern (7th Cir. 1973), 484 F.2d 879 (en banc)). He now seeks reinstatement. The hearing panel of the Attorney Disciplinary Commission that heard Silvern's application found him to be "rehabilitated" and "morally and ethically fit to resume the practice of law," and thus recommended his reinstatement. The Review Board, on the other hand, found that the petitioner had "failed to establish by clear and convincing evidence appropriate rehabilitation and good character," and therefore refused to recommend reinstatement. The ultimate responsibility for attorney discipline lies with this court, and after reviewing the evidence, we agree with the hearing panel. We therefore accept its recommendation of reinstatement.

Petitioner is 59 years old. Educated in Chicago, he had been a member of the Illinois bar for 21 years before moving to Arizona in 1971. His practice was varied, encompassing estates and wills, workmen's compensation, torts and contracts, with a special emphasis on personal injury during the latter part of his career. As an active member of the Chicago Tenant's Council, he also undertook public interest work, often representing indigent tenants in matters involving evictions, rent control, and substandard housing.

He was convicted and disbarred for his part during the late 1960's in a scheme to defraud insurance companies. In each instance, the petitioner paid a Chicago police officer to refer personal injury claimants to him. These claimants were in turn referred by the petitioner to Dr. William Becker for treatment. Dr. Becker, who apparently had similar arrangements with several other attorneys, supplied the petitioner with an inflated medical bill, which the petitioner used to secure an inflated settlement from insurance companies. He then withheld the amount of the medical bill from the client, and without the client's knowledge split the inflated portion between himself and Dr. Becker. He was sentenced to 18 months in the Federal prison at Safford, Arizona.

The evidence of the petitioner's rehabilitation is largely undisputed. What is in issue is the conclusion that should be drawn from it. The petitioner testified that his progress toward rehabilitation began even before his conviction. After arriving in Tucson in 1971, where he moved for reasons unrelated to the indictment brought against him later that year, he became active in a variety of civic activities. He was instrumental in organizing the Tucson Opera Company and youth programs for students to participate in opera. He also helped organize a learning program for deaf and blind children. The petitioner testified that there were days on which he devoted 10 or 12 hours to these charitable activities.

While in prison, the petitioner took an active role in improving the lot of his fellow inmates. He discovered that although many of the prisoners at Safford lacked a high school diploma, the prison had no educational programs. He discussed the problem with the prison commandant, and as a result the commandant contacted a representative from a local college. The petitioner and the college representative organized classes designed to prepare prisoners for a high school equivalency examination. He testified that he traveled from barracks to barracks encouraging inmates to enroll and to participate actively in the program. In addition, he helped to organize a chapter of the Jaycees at Safford, and he became its first president. One of the purposes of this group was to conduct discussions of the criminal justice system. All of this was in addition to his regular prison duties.

The petitioner was released from prison in November of 1974. A few months later, he joined Urban Engineering, an engineering firm, as its general business administrator, responsible for bookkeeping, checks, deposits, receipts, and accounts receivable. He performed his duties competently and honorably for a little over a year with no complaints from his partners, and left the position on good terms only when it became evident to him that his lack of an engineering background handicapped his firm. His work earned him the respect of his partners, one of whom wrote a letter on his behalf calling him "a very hard worker, honest and of the highest character."

Silvern later applied to the Arizona Department of Real Estate for a real estate license. In his application, he disclosed his conviction. Although a license was initially refused, the petitioner requested a hearing and the hearing officer found the petitioner to be "a person of honesty, truthfulness and good reputation." He stated:

"[Mr. Silvern] spoke with total candor regarding his conviction for mail fraud, the penalties he has paid since then, the demonstrable measures taken toward his rehabilitation and his desire to be able to expand his evident broad base of civic-oriented contributions to include a return to business endeavors, as well as his ability to do so."

Concluding that the petitioner "will, if anything, go out of his way to conduct himself in the real estate profession in such a fashion as to be beyond reproach," the hearing officer recommended that a real estate license be granted, and petitioner received one.

The petitioner became associated with the real estate firm of A.P. Brown & Company. He still holds that position. His work includes handling residential, commercial and industrial real estate.

Silvern has been spending much of his remaining time reading the law at the University of Arizona law library. Recently he reviewed all noteworthy articles, beginning with 1971 issues, appearing in the Illinois Law Journal.

At the hearing, the petitioner testified that he deeply regrets his actions. He placed $677, the amount of the fees involved in the cases for which he was convicted, in trust with his attorney for payment to the insurance companies, if they could be identified, or as a charitable donation. ...

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