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Over State Bar Objections, L.A. Lawyer Is Reinstated

A. Thomas Hunt, 64, lost his license to practice after a flood of client complaints. He blamed the problems on alcohol but says he's now sober.

March 21, 2004|Christiana Sciaudone | Times Staff Writer

Over the repeated objections of state bar investigators, a lawyer who lost his license because of lying and theft was reinstated last week with full privileges to practice in California after he said he had beaten an addiction to alcohol.

Los Angeles lawyer A. Thomas Hunt, 64, lost his license in 1994 after an avalanche of client complaints. A final appeal of his reinstatement by the state lawyers organization fell short when the state Supreme Court declined to intervene.

"Needless to say, it's a great relief for this whole matter to finally be over," Hunt said from Phoenix. "I'm looking forward to being a lawyer again and getting back in the courtroom."

That prospect continued to worry state bar officials.

"Naturally, we're disappointed with the results," said Alan Gordon, deputy trial counsel for the state bar, the organization that licenses and disciplines lawyers in California.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday April 18, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 3 inches; 114 words Type of Material: Correction
Attorney's disbarment -- A March 21 article in the California section reported that A. Thomas Hunt was disbarred in 1994 for lying and theft. He was not disbarred for theft. Hunt was charged with three counts of grand theft a year later, in 1995. The same set of facts that led to the criminal charges had also been used to disbar Hunt for abandoning a client after accepting $6,000 in advance fees. The criminal charges were later dropped, and Hunt's license to practice law was reinstated earlier this year. The article also incorrectly stated that Hunt sued former client Howard Bennett seven times for malicious prosecution. In fact, Hunt filed one malicious prosecution lawsuit.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday May 18, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 73 words Type of Material: Correction
Attorney reinstatement -- An article in the March 21 California section and an April 18 correction of that article incorrectly reported that A. Thomas Hunt was disbarred by the State Bar of California. Hunt voluntarily resigned from the practice of law with disciplinary charges pending in November of 1993, according to State Bar records. He was sworn in and reinstated to the bar on April 13, 2004, according to bar officials and records.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday May 23, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 71 words Type of Material: Correction
Attorney reinstatement -- An article in the California section on March 21 and an April 18 correction of that article said that A. Thomas Hunt was disbarred by the State Bar of California. Hunt voluntarily resigned from the practice of law with disciplinary charges pending in November 1993, according to state bar records. He was sworn in and reinstated to the bar April 13, 2004, according to bar officials and records.

Some of Hunt's former clients, who formed a club for victims of rotten lawyers, were upset at the news.

"I think that the California state Supreme Court should be ashamed of themselves," said Howard Bennett, a former client of Hunt's. "It is very sad news for the many victims he has hurt in the past."

Hunt admitted to having engaged in professional misbehavior to a state bar court after he applied for reinstatement in 2001. He blamed alcohol for his problems.

The state bar's client security fund paid 14 applicants a total of $29,445 as compensation for Hunt's mistakes, a state bar spokesman said.

Hunt represented Bennett, 74, in the early 1990s in an age-discrimination lawsuit against Culver City Unified School District, for which Bennett was a teacher.

"He didn't show up to court," Bennett said. "The judge ended up dismissing the case."

"The alcoholism got the better of me and I didn't properly litigate the cases," Hunt said in a phone interview.

Bennett eventually won a civil suit against Hunt with penalties of $1.5 million. Hunt in turn sued Bennett seven times for malicious prosecution. Hunt lost all the suits and Bennett eventually took home about $20,000, Bennett said.

Hunt's license was first suspended in 1991 for 16 months for nonpayment of dues, according to court records. During that time, Hunt continued to accept work as a lawyer and collect fees, even though his license was suspended, court records show. Hunt allegedly failed to contact clients, or failed to show up to court.

In 1994, he resigned as three disciplinary cases were pending against him. The charges included acts of moral turpitude, dishonesty or corruption; intentionally, recklessly or repeatedly failing to perform legal services with competence; and practicing law while not a member of the state bar.

In the mid-1990s, Hunt was charged criminally on several counts of grand theft and unauthorized practice of law. All charges were later dismissed.

Hunt graduated from Harvard Law School in 1965, and he testified in state bar court that his drinking began at that time. By the 1980s, Hunt stated, he was "falling-down drunk" almost every day, according to court documents.

Hunt worked on several major employment discrimination cases between 1972 and 1993, and in the 1980s was included for three years in an annual listing of the best lawyers in America, according to court records.

Since being disbarred, Hunt has worked as a paralegal. Hunt said he has been sober since 1992.

"The review department and the state bar court found that he had sufficiently rehabilitated himself and should be allowed to practice," said state bar spokesman E.J. Bernacki.

The California Supreme Court declined to review the case last week. Hunt's sobriety, his steady job, and letters attesting to his reformed character played a large part in the decision to return his license.

"I always thought [Hunt] would end up on the lawyers' equivalent of Mt. Rushmore," wrote Judge Stephen S. Trott of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Gordon, the state bar attorney, thinks Hunt failed to show he had been rehabilitated, in part because he continued his case against Bennett so many times and for so many years.

Bennett said, "It's amazing to me, to all of us, all of the victims, that he should be allowed to practice law again."

The status of any California lawyer can be verified by accessing the state bar's website at www.calbar.ca.gov.

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