Former House speaker Thomas Finneran was disbarred today by the Supreme Judicial Court, which ruled that his federal obstruction of justice conviction made him ethically unsuited to work as an attorney.
|Thomas Finneran (Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff/2007)|
"The respondent's misconduct implicates both the integrity of the judicial system and the honesty of a member of the bar,'' the court unanimously concluded in a decision released this morning. "The respondent was convicted of a serious crime involving false testimony to a court under oath in a significant case about fundamental rights.
"We share the ... view that the public perception of the bar would be gravely damaged if this court were to impose a sanction less than the generally applicable one of disbarment.''
Finneran was prosecuted for comments he made under oath to attorneys who alleged redistricting plans by the Legislature diluted the influence of black voters. During the questioning, a combative Finneran denied he knew the details of the plans. He was indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice in 2005, and pleaded guilty in US District Court in Boston to obstruction of justice in 2007.
Finneran was placed on 18 months unsupervised probation, fined $25,000, had his state pension revoked, and lost his $500,000 a year job at the Biotechnology Council. Finneran has since launched a career as a radio talk show host on WRKO-680, an AM radio station.
Finneran's disbarment will be formally entered into the court's record later this year. The SJC said today that the disbarment will be retroactive to Jan. 23, 2007, when Finneran first faced discipline for his conviction.
According to the SJC, the internal disciplinary board for lawyers, the Board of Bar Overseers, did not agree on sanctions for Finneran. The majority of the board voted for disbarment, while one member dissented and pushed for a less severe penalty.
Finneran has fought the last two years to remain an attorney, enlisting the support of four former Massachusetts governors to convince former President George W. Bush to grant him a pardon. That effort failed, and Bush did not nullify Finneran's federal conviction.
Writing for the court, Justice Margot Botsford said that Finneran's long career of public service, his acknowledgment of responsibility, and the fact that his crime took place outside the legal profession did lend some support for Finneran keeping his law license.
"We have no reason to disagree with the finding that the respondent's conduct during the voting rights lawsuit represented an aberrant event in his long career of serving his constituency and the public with loyalty and distinction,'' Botsford wrote.
But, the SJC concluded that protecting the integrity and reputation of the legal profession justified ending Finneran's legal career.
"The crime of which the respondent stands convicted required proof that he had the specific intent to mislead the court and thereby interfere with the administration of justice," Botsford wrote. "That the circumstances of the respondent's crime suggest it was not as egregious as in other cases does not diminish the significance of the felony the respondent did commit."
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