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Mass. Disbars Former House Speaker

Thomas M. Finneran, the former speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, was disbarred yesterday for lying under oath in a federal voting rights lawsuit. In ordering the disbarment, the Supreme Judicial Court rejected Finneran's contention that he should be given lighter discipline because his false testimony was unrelated to his practice of law.

We have generally concluded that crimes ... involving interference with the administration of justice generally do not qualify for a lesser sanction on the ground that the lawyer was not representing a client or directly engaged in the practice of law at the relevant time. ... Because the respondent was testifying under oath in a judicial proceeding in his official capacity as a member of the House, his conviction of obstruction of justice places his case squarely within this group of cases.

In 2007, Finneran pleaded guilty to federal charges of obstruction of justice related to his testimony in the voting rights case. In sentencing him to 18 months of unsupervised probation, the judge said the seriousness of the offense was mitigated by Finneran's lack of evil motive, absence of racial animus, long career in public service, community service and exemplary private life.

After the bar brought disciplinary charges against Finneran, a three-member hearing panel concluded that these same mitigating factors weighed against disbarment. The panel instead recommended a two-year suspension. Both Finneran and the bar counsel appealed to the full Board of Bar Overseers, which rejected the panel's conclusion and recommended disbarment.

The SJC made clear that even though Finneran's false testimony was unrelated to his law practice and even in light of his otherwise distinguished career, it would not tolerate lawyers lying under oath. "The respondent's misconduct implicates both the integrity of the judicial system and the honesty of a member of the bar. ... [T]he public perception of the bar would be gravely damaged if this court were to impose a sanction less than the generally applicable one of disbarment."

Disbarment will have no immediate impact on Finneran's current career. He now works as a morning drive-time talk-radio host, an occupation for which no law license is required, only a lawyer's gift of gab.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on January 12, 2010 at 12:32 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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