Baring Equality

The cases of a young defendant and a repeat offender attorney show power and privilege tip the scales

Jerome Fishkin, a San Francisco attorney who specializes in representing other attorneys, says he'll fight the move to strengthen disbarment rules.

"We all know people who've gotten in trouble, we all know people who've put it back together," he said. "If a taxicab driver is in a bad accident, do you permanently take away his license, or do you let him come back 10 years from now? Do you let him rehabilitate himself?"

Hogwash, says Wendy Borcherdt, who served on the State Bar's Board of Governors during the 1990s and recently wrote an essay for the California Bar Journal arguing in favor of permanent disbarment.

"A taxi driver is not charged under a sworn oath to uphold the system of laws in our justice system," Borcherdt said. "An incredibly small percentage of the abusive attorneys end up in disbarment. It is usually for repeat offenses. And they have prior warnings, and they keep injuring their clients."

I'd favor tossing the taxicab standard and replacing it with one that contemplates privilege drift when considering how much of an additional fair shake any person deserves. A lawyer who knows the legal system inside and out, yet seems to somehow fall afoul of it time and again -- does he really need to stay in the same, overcrowded line of work? And is it really necessary to shove a young toker back in jail without at least giving him a fair chance to defend himself?

Not in a truly democratic California.

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