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Adams v. Arkansas State Board of Law Examiners

Supreme Court of Arkansas

February 22, 2018

JAMES SCOTT ADAMS PETITIONER
v.
ARKANSAS STATE BOARD OF LAW EXAMINERS RESPONDENT

         AN ORIGINAL ACTION

          James Scott Adams, pro se petitioner.

          Nancie M. Givens, Executive Director, Office of Professional Programs, for respondent.

          ROBIN F. WYNNE, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE

         James Scott Adams challenges the decision of the State Board of Law Examiners (Board) finding that he is procedurally barred from pursuing his petition for readmission to the Bar of Arkansas. Because this case arises under this court's power to regulate the practice of law, our jurisdiction is proper pursuant to Arkansas Supreme Court Rule 1-2(a)(5) (2017). We affirm the decision of the Board.

         Adams was admitted to the practice of law in Arkansas in 1981, with Arkansas Bar number 81001. He served as a district judge in Conway County from 1988 until 2010. In June 2010, Adams filed a petition in this court seeking to surrender his law license. In his petition, Adams acknowledged numerous complaints filed against him by the Office of Professional Conduct, as well as a new grievance filed by a client, and stated in part

In order to avoid the expense, distress and embarrassment of addressing [these] matters, which have great potential to place me in the position of defending a disbarment proceeding, it is my considered decision to voluntarily petition this Court for the surrender of my license to practice law in the State of Arkansas.
. . . .
All statements made in this Petition are true and correct. In order to avoid unnecessary proceedings, I have decided to voluntarily offer the surrender of my Arkansas law license. This surrender is freely and voluntarily made. I have not been coerced nor intimidated into surrendering my license, nor have I been made any promise of benefit nor given any inducement whatsoever to do so. I am fully aware of the implications of this surrender, and understand that this surrender is unconditional. I am aware that I cannot be readmitted to the Bar of Arkansas except upon application made to the State Board of Bar Examiners in accordance with the Rules Governing Admission to the Bar, or any successor rules, and pursuant to the restrictions of Section 24 of the Procedures of the Arkansas Supreme Court Regulating Professional Conduct of Attorneys at Law (2002) ("Procedures") or any successor rules.

         On August 2, 2010, on recommendation of the Committee on Professional Conduct, this court accepted Adams's petition to surrender, in lieu of potential disbarment proceedings, his license to practice law in Arkansas.[1] In re Adams, 2010 Ark. 318 (per curiam).

         In September 2016, Adams filed an application with the Board for readmission to the Bar of Arkansas. As part of his application, Adams stated that he had a severe problem with alcohol in the years leading to the surrender of his law license, and that he has not used alcohol since July 2010. The chair of the Board issued an order determining that Adams is procedurally barred from pursuing his petition for readmission because the surrender of his license was based on violations of Arkansas Rule of Professional Conduct 8.4(c), which provides that it is professional misconduct for a lawyer to engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation. Under section 24(B)(3) of the Arkansas Supreme Court Procedures Regulating Professional Conduct of Attorneys at Law, "application for readmission to the Bar of Arkansas shall not be allowed [if] . . . [a]ny of the grounds found to be the basis of a disbarment or any grounds presented in a voluntary surrender of law license are of the character and nature of conduct that reflects adversely on the individual's honesty or trustworthiness, whether or not the conviction of any criminal offense occurred." Therefore, Adams was found to be ineligible to apply for readmission. Adams appeals from that order.

         This court has the express authority to regulate the practice of law under amendment 28 to the Arkansas Constitution, and the purpose of this amendment is to protect the public and maintain the integrity of the courts and the honor of the profession. In re Haynes, 2013 Ark. 102, at 4, 426 S.W.3d 411, 413 (citing In re Madden, 2012 Ark. 279, 423 S.W.3d 39). Once a lawyer has lost his or her license to practice law, whether through surrender or disbarment, there is a presumption against readmission. Id. The protection of the public and the honor and integrity of the profession have long been the principal criteria in determining whether a person should be admitted or readmitted to the bar. Redden v. Ark. State Bd. of Law Exam'rs, 371 Ark. 584, 589, 269 S.W.3d 359, 362 (2007).

         Adams argues on appeal that the Arkansas State Board of Law Examiners clearly erred in denying his "Petition for Reinstatement" in that the "Finding and Order" of the chairman was arbitrary. He admits that the surrender of his law license was based on several complaints that resulted in findings that he had violated Arkansas Rule of Professional Conduct 8.4(c). However, Adams contends that, in light of previous cases, the finding of the Board in the present case was clearly erroneous and arbitrary. Specifically, he points to In re Petition for Readmission of Harold Wayne Madden to the Arkansas Bar, 2012 Ark. 279, and In Re Jerry Hudson Shepard, Jr., Application for Readmission to the Arkansas Bar, 2015 Ark. 93, the cases cited by the Board in the order finding Adams ineligible. In Madden, the attorney seeking readmission to the bar had pled guilty in federal court to misprision of a felony. The appeal implicated section 24(B)(2), which prohibits application for readmission where "[t]he disbarment or surrender resulted from conviction of a Serious Crime in any jurisdiction other than commission of an offense for which the culpable mental state was that of negligence or recklessness." After the Board concluded, following a hearing, that Madden was eligible for readmission to the Bar because his crime involved the mental state of negligence or recklessness, this court held that readmission was prohibited under Section 24 and that the petition must be denied. In Shepard, this court addressed a situation similar to the one at bar:

The plain language of section 24.B.3 states that an attorney is not eligible for readmission where any of the grounds "presented in a voluntary surrender of law license are of the character and nature of conduct that reflects adversely on the individual's honesty or trustworthiness, whether or not the conviction of any criminal offense occurred." Thus, the question before this court is whether the grounds presented in Shepard's voluntary surrender of his law license bar his readmission. We conclude that they do. By his own admission, Shepard's conduct involved dishonesty and was prejudicial to the administration of justice. We do not need to examine Shepard's rehabilitation efforts because rehabilitation is pertinent only when an attorney is eligible for readmission. See, e.g., In ...

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