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In re Sobin

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA COURT OF APPEALS


November 10, 1994

IN RE: DARRIN PAUL SOBIN, APPLICANT. AN APPLICANT FOR ADMISSION TO THE BAR OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA COURT OF APPEALS

On Report and Recommendation of the Committee on Admissions for the District of Columbia Bar

Before King and Sullivan, Associate Judges, and Belson, Senior Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sullivan

SULLIVAN, Associate Judge: Darrin Paul Sobin passed the July 1992 Bar examination for the District of Columbia and is an applicant for admission to the Bar. The Committee on Admissions (Committee) recommended that Sobin be admitted to the Bar, despite Sobin's felony convictions for conspiracy to manufacture a controlled substance and aiding and abetting both interstate prostitution and interstate transportation in aid of interstate racketeering. *fn1 We conclude, considering the totality of the circumstances, that Sobin has established that he has the present good moral character required for admission to the Bar. Accordingly, we grant his application for admission.

I.

In 1977, when Sobin was eleven years old, his mother and father started an escort business. In 1982, when Sobin was sixteen years old, his mother asked him to work in the business part-time answering telephones. Sobin agreed to do so, and was compensated at the rate of four dollars an hour. Although as Sobin got older he began to question whether the escort business was involved in prostitution or other illegal activity, he continued to work in the service throughout his second year of college. *fn2

In mid 1985, at the age of nineteen, Sobin decided to leave his mother's escort business and in the summer of 1985 went to California to work on his uncle's cattle ranch. Shortly after his arrival, Sobin's mother arrived in California and decided to start marijuana farming. Sobin explained to his uncle that he did not want to be involved in the marijuana operation, and his uncle agreed that he would continue to work exclusively for the cattle ranch. Soon after this conversation, however, his uncle decided that the marijuana operation was being poorly run, and Sobin gave in to his uncle's demands to help out with the marijuana crop. Over the next six weeks, Sobin irrigated the marijuana plants, dug ditches, gathered and laid pipes and opened taps.

As Sobin packed up to return to school in Washington, D.C., he was detained by law enforcement authorities who arrived to execute a search warrant on his uncle's property. After his return to Washington, D.C., Sobin learned that he had been indicted in California on federal charges relating to the marijuana operation. *fn3

On May 19, 1987, at age twenty-one, Sobin pled guilty in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California to one felony count of conspiracy to manufacture a controlled substance. Sobin received a suspended sentence, and was placed on probation for five years, with the requirement that he perform 200 hours of community service.

Meanwhile, in the course of executing search warrants in connection with the marijuana operation, the California authorities discovered records relating to his mother's escort service in Washington. As a, result, of the California search, and a subsequent Washington search of Sobin's residence, Sobin was indicted, in the District of Columbia in 1987 on a number of charges relating to his mother's escort service.

In September 1987, Sobin and fourteen other defendants Went to trial in the District of Columbia and were convicted on all counts. Specifically, Sobin was convicted of one count of aiding and abetting in interstate prostitution in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2421 (1988), and four counts of aiding and abetting interstate transportation in aid of interstate racketeering in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2, 1952 (1988).

On July 14, 1988, United States District Court Judge June L. Green suspended Sobin's sentence and placed him on two years probation with a requirement that he perform 200 hours of community service. The sentence imposed on Sobin, who was twenty-two years old at the time, was under the federal youth corrections act (since repealed) in order to permit expungement of his record. *fn4 Sobin received early discharges from both terms of probation. *fn5

II.

Rule 46 provides that bar applicants must demonstrate good moral character and fitness to practice law. D.C. App. R. 46 (d) *fn6 and (e). *fn7 In reviewing recommendations of the Committee on Admissions, we stated in In re Mustafa, 631 A.2d 45 (D.C. 1993) that "this court will accept findings of fact made by the Committee unless they are unsupported by substantial evidence of record, will make due allowance for the Committee's opportunity to observe and evaluate the demeanor of the applicant where relevant, and will afford the Committee's recommendations some deference . . . ." Mustafa, supra, 631 A.2d at 47 (citations omitted). Moreover, a criminal conviction does not per se require exclusion of the applicant from, the Bar. See, In re Polin, 630 A.2d 1140 (D.C. 1993) (Polin II) (applicants admitted, six and one half years after his conviction for cocaine distribution); In re Manville, 538 A.2d 1128, 1132 (D.C. 1988) (en banc) (Manville II) (applicants admitted after convictions on various criminal offenses). Rather, the totality of the circumstances surrounding the application must be taken into account. See In re Polin, 596 A.2d 50, 51 (D.C. 1991) (Polin I); In re Manville, 494 A.2d 1289, 1295 (D.C. 1985) (Manville I). *fn8

III.

While the present case and Mustafa share similarities, *fn9 in our view, two critical distinctions require this court to reach a different Conclusion here. First, in Mustafa, we denied admission to the applicant *fn10 holding that "on the record . . . particularly the short period of time that has elapsed since his misconduct, *fn11 [the applicant] has failed to establish that he has the good moral character required for admission to the Bar." Mustafa, supra, 631 A.2d at 46. While we declined to formulate a per se rule as to the length of time which must pass between the applicant's conduct and the applicant's admission to the Bar, we note that Sobin's conduct occurred over ten years ago. See Polin I, supra.

Moreover, since Sobin's participation in his family's criminal enterprises, it appears from the record that he has lead a productive adult life. In fact, some years after his conviction in the United States District Court here, Sobin served as an intern for Judge June L. Green, who presided over his case, and also has served as a law clerk in the office of Bar Counsel. Furthermore, both Judge June L. Green and the Bar Counsel have written recommendations in favor of his admission.

While this court did not, and does not, take a bar applicant's criminal conviction(s) lightly, we are satisfied that our review of the circumstances surrounding Sobin's initial foray into his family's criminal enterprises, coupled with Sobin's candor with the Committee, *fn12 remorsefulness about his past misdeeds, and his prolonged effort to make a meaningful contribution to society, tips the scale in favor of Sobin's admission to the Bar. As we noted in Mustafa "it is by no means our purpose to discourage the applicant from continuing his positive personal and professional development." Mustafa, supra, 631 A.2d at 47 (quoting Polin I, supra, 596 A.2d at 55). *fn13 We believe our decision today is consistent with encouraging individuals who have had past troubles to "turn over a new leaf" and to seek admission to the Bar.

Second, unlike the applicant in Mustafa, Sobin's conduct occurred prior to law school during his teenage years of sixteen to nineteen. While a certain level of awareness as to the ethical obligations of a lawyer may be imputed to a third year, second semester law student (Mustafa), the same level of awareness, should not be attributed to a teenager who has not yet begun the study of law.

Therefore, considering the totality of the circumstances, we conclude that Sobin has sustained his burden of proof to demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that he possesses good moral character and general fitness to practice law in the District of Columbia. D.C. App. R. 46 (e). Accordingly, we grant Sobin's application for admission to the Bar of the District of Columbia.

So ordered.


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