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Law School Case Brief

In re Gossage - 23 Cal. 4th 1080, 99 Cal. Rptr. 2d 130, 5 P.3d 186 (2000)


An applicant to practice law who has behaved so poorly in the past can be found morally fit to practice law only if the evidence shows that he is no longer the same person, and only if he has since behaved in exemplary fashion over a meaningful period of time. This heavy burden is commensurate with the gravity of his crimes. Similar considerations affect the manner in which the evidence is weighed in determining whether the requisite showing of rehabilitation has been made. Where serious or criminal misconduct is involved, positive inferences about the applicant's moral character are more difficult to draw, and negative character inferences are stronger and more reasonable. Likewise, numerous illegal and bad acts committed by the applicant cannot reasonably be viewed each in isolation, and instead suggest a pattern of antisocial behavior casting doubt on his moral character.


While addicted to drugs and alcohol, respondent Eben Gossage killed his sister under circumstances involving moral turpitude, and was convicted of voluntary manslaughter. He committed other crimes involving dishonesty and moral turpitude around the same time, and was convicted of several forgeries. After committing his last felony offense, and after serving his most recent term in prison, Gossage took steps to change his life. He overcame substance abuse, attended college and law school, and sought admission to the State Bar. However, while preparing to become a lawyer, Gossage sustained numerous misdemeanor convictions involving, for the most part, willful failure to appear in court and willful failure to obey court orders. In moral character proceedings to determine Gossage’s fitness to practice law, petitioner Committee of Bar Examiners ("Committee") conducted a preliminary investigation and declined to certify the applicant for admission on the ground that he lacked the requisite good moral character. Gossage appealed to the state bar court. Following an evidentiary hearing, the hearing department recommended that he be admitted to the practice of law. The Committee of Bar Examiners thereafter sought a writ of review, which was granted.


Was Gossage fit to practice law?




The state supreme court rejected the bar court's recommendation and declined to admit Gossage to the practice of law. The court held that Gossage failed to demonstrate his rehabilitation and was not entitled to admission to practice law. The court noted that the offenses committed by Gossage while preparing to become a n attorney were reminiscent of his behavior in prior judicial proceedings, when he failed to make court-ordered appearances and violated court-ordered conditions of probation and parole. The court further noted that of the 17 criminal convictions received throughout his adult life, Gossage mentioned only four on his application for admission. Such omissions occurred even though full disclosure was required, and even though he swore his application was complete. The court observed that cases authorizing admission to the practice of law on the basis of rehabilitation commonly involved a substantial period of exemplary conduct following the applicant's misdeeds. The court ruled that the more serious the misconduct and the bad character evidence, the stronger the applicant's showing of rehabilitation must be. To safeguard the public and protect integrity of the profession, the court could not conclude that Gossage had established his present good moral character.

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