Tuesday, December 3, 2013

DC's strange concept of moral turpitude

In Washington DC if an attorney's conduct is found to involve "moral turpitude" disbarment is automatic.  The problem is that there is no clear definition of the concept of moral turpitude and the boards and courts continue to make very strange rulings on it.  For example, a few years ago the Board on Professional Responsibility concluded that a lawyer's conviction for murdering his wife did not establish moral turpitude (here), but this was later reversed.  Then there is the case of a lawyer who lied, cheated and stole property from a store for personal gain.  He was convicted for it, yet the DC Court of Appeals found that the conduct did not involve moral turpitude - even if it could be considered to be a "serious crime."  I wrote a long comment on that case here.  And finally, there is the case in which an attorney who was convicted of felony traveling for the purpose of engaging in sex with a minor was found not to have engaged in conduct involving moral turpitude. According to an account of the case, the attorney had made a 12-year-old boy his sex slave for six years and was convicted and sentenced to 15 years behind bars.  My comment on that one is here.

But not all is hope is lost.  While holding a child as a sex slave is not moral turpitude, it has been decided that tampering with a witness constitutes moral turpitude (here). And today comes news that a new opinion of the DC Court of Appeals has found that a conviction for obstruction of justice constitutes moral turpitude per se.  The Legal Profession blog has more on the case, including a comment on it from the Huffington Post here.

I guess I just don't understand the concept of moral turpitude.  It would seem to me that it has to mean something broader than interference with the judicial process, which seems to be what the DC decisions are limiting it to.