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LAUGHLIN v. CLEPHANE

May 1, 1947

LAUGHLIN
v.
CLEPHANE et al.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: REEVES

The question for decision in this case is whether the amended complaint shows on its face a lack of jurisdiction, but, conceding jurisdiction, whether complaint states a valid claim against the defendants or any of them upon which relief can be granted.

In the complaint the plaintiff invoked jurisdiction perforce certain provisions of Title 31, U.S.C.A. § 231 and 232 commonly known as the informer statutes. Pertinent portions of Section 231 relied upon by the plaintiff are, ' * * * who enters into any agreement, combination, or conspiracy to defraud the Government of the United States, or any department or officer thereof, by obtaining or aiding to obtain the payment or allowance of any false or fraudulent claim, etc.'

 Plaintiff's complaint is in three counts. The first count in substance states that the several defendants have been designated by the District Court of the United States for the District of Columbia to serve on a committee known as the 'Committee on Admissions and Grievances' to determine fitness for membership in the bar and to exercise certain supervisory and disciplinary action over members of the bar.

 In relation to admissions to the bar plaintiff charges that certain fees have been provided by rule of court and that applicants for admission to the bar have been required to pay such fees, and, 'that the amounts paid by the candidates represent money belonging to the United States Government and should be paid into the Registry of the Court under the Supervision of the Clerk of the District Court of the United States, and at proper time, unexpended balances should be deposited in the Treasury of the United States, as required by existing law and regulation.'

 It is asserted by plaintiff that under the law the Comptroller General of the United States is required to audit accounts of the courts, including this account, but that the defendants have so handled said monies and deposit as to remove it from the supervision of the proper authorities.

 There is an averment that the defendants, 'have agreed among themselves and with each other that the amounts paid, as referred to above, shall be divided up among the defendants, and each of them, and the amounts have been divided up and distributed among each of the defendants.'

 After averments as to the amount thus collected and distributed over the period from 1939 to 1946 inclusive, the plaintiff asks, in substance, for an accounting and that such disbursements as may have been invalid be added to the balance on hand and that the whole thereof 'be returned to the Treasurer of the United States' by the defendants.

 The second count complains of alleged irregularities in examinations of applicants and the denial of admission to a large percentage of those who have applied for admission to the bar. The relief sought is that the examination papers be preserved and retained subject to the order of the court and such authorization as the Congress may give with respect to their destruction.

 The third count asserts the illegal and unconstitutional functioning of the Committee because no person of the colored race is made a member of the Committee, and thus and thereby it is charged a discrimination operates against applicants of the colored race. The reason assigned for such alleged irregularity and unconstitutionality is, 'that there has been a systematic exclusion of colored attorneys from membership on the Committee and this is contrary to our theory of Government, etc.'

 In addition to restraining orders to preserve the status quo, the plaintiff asks for the appointment of a master, 'to conduct hearings and take testimony as to the methods insofar as the examinations are concerned in order that it may be definitely determined whether the markings are given in good faith, and to take testimony to determine as to whether or not there has been a systematic exclusion of members of the colored race from membership on the Admissions and Grievance Committee of the District Court of the United States for the District of Columbia, and to take testimony to determine whether there shall be a right of appeal to an unsuccessful applicant.'

 It was to this complaint that the defendants interposed the challenge hereinbefore mentioned.

 As postulates to a consideration of the case and a proper determination thereof certain basic facts and principles should be stated.

 1. As attorneys are officers of the court, the power to admit applicants to practice law is judicial and not legislative and is vested in the courts only. It is the duty of the court to exercise and regulate the admission of applicants to the bar by sound and just judicial discretion. In re Secombe, 19 ...


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