UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
February 6, 1974
In the Matter of Melvin BELLI
Gasch, District Judge.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: GASCH
GASCH, District Judge.
This matter is before the Court on the motion of Melvin Belli to be admitted to the bar of this Court pro hac vice. A brief outline of the history and development of this suit is necessary to place this motion in its proper perspective.
in this malpractice action was filed on March 18, 1971, and alleged that plaintiff, Charlene Morris, a minor, became blind due to the negligence of the defendants. After random assignment of the case to Judge John Lewis Smith, Jr., of this Court, Mr. Belli was admitted pro hac vice by the Court.
Following a fairly lengthy trial,
the jury returned a substantial verdict for the plaintiff.
Defendants moved for a new trial and Judge Smith, by Order of April 18, 1973, granted this motion. The basis of Judge Smith's decision, upon his review of the transcript, was that the deliberate mention of insurance by Mr. Belli on several occasions was so prejudicial and detrimental to defendant Children's Hospital that a new trial was necessary. Thereafter, plaintiff filed a motion seeking to have Judge Smith recuse himself under 28 U.S.C. § 144, which was granted. Subsequently, the case was reassigned to this member of the Court.
On May 14, 1973, Mr. Belli appeared on a nationwide T.V. show, during which he made certain derogatory remarks
concerning Judge Smith and this District Court that raise grave doubts whether Mr. Belli should again be admitted pro hac vice in this jurisdiction. The test as to whether a nonresident lawyer should be admitted pro hac vice is stated succinctly in an opinion of the Fourth Circuit in Thomas v. Cassidy, 249 F.2d 91 (1957), cert. denied, Fitzgerald v. Cassidy, 355 U.S. 958, 78 S. Ct. 544, 2 L. Ed. 2d 533 (1958). In that decision the Court noted:
It is well settled that permission to a nonresident attorney, who has not been admitted to practice in a court, to appear pro hac vice in a case there pending is not a right but a privilege, the granting of which is a matter of grace resting in the sound discretion of the presiding judge. 5 Am. Jur. p. 572; Manning v. Roanoke & T.R. Co., 122 N.C. 824, 28 S.E. 963; Youmans v. Hanna, 35 N.D. 479, 160 N.W. 705 (1916), motion denied, 35 N.D. 513, 161 N.W. 797 (1917), Ann. Cas. 1917E, 263; Note 24 L.R.A., N.S., 754.
249 F.2d at 92. See also Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway Co. v. Jackson, 235 F.2d 390, 393 (10th Cir. 1956).
The court in Thomas found that the "unlawyer-like conduct" (249 F.2d at 92) of plaintiff's counsel in the same case in which he wished to then appear pro hac vice, and for which the court below had denied him that privilege, was supported by the findings and was not an abuse of discretion.
This Court, in the exercise of its discretion, therefore, must determine whether the remarks and conduct of Mr. Belli were so impermissible as to warrant the denial of his motion for admission pro hac vice. For the following reasons, this Court finds that these remarks set forth fully in the margin
clearly warrant the denial of the motion for admission pro hac vice.
First, Mr. Belli admitted in a hearing, held in camera at his request, on January 31, 1974, that his statements that Judge Smith's son represented "all of the hospitals in the District" was simply inaccurate. In fact, he represents none of the hospitals and he has not lived at Judge Smith's home for several years. Additionally, Mr. Belli apologized for his remark that black jurors in this Court "couldn't sit on the same side of the courtroom ten years ago" with white jurors. Again, Mr. Belli admitted that this statement was untrue and he had simply believed this to be the case because of allegedly similar practices in the South.
Finally, in regard to the statement that Judge Smith was "excused from a similar type of case just before and told not to sit," Mr. Belli to this day is not sure whether this remark is true or not. The fact is that Judge Smith voluntarily recused himself in the case to which reference was made. There is no evidence whatsoever that he was told not to sit.
Accordingly, it is the judgment of this Court that Mr. Belli's statements on nationwide television, which were calculated to prejudice the standing of this Court and to cast a shadow upon its integrity and that of one of its judges, are without factual foundation and were recklessly made. Mr. Belli acted in complete disregard as to the factual accuracy of his statements.
Such conduct requires that this Court refuse to admit him to practice in this case.
Wherefore, it is by the Court this 6th day of February, 1974,
Ordered that Mr. Belli's motion for admission pro had vice be, and the same hereby is, denied.