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MATTER ADMISSION JAMES J. CAPLINGER

May 18, 1981

IN THE MATTER OF ADMISSION OF JAMES J. CAPLINGER


ON APPLICATION FOR ADMISSION TO THE BAR OF THIS COURT

The application for admission is granted.

CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER, dissenting.

The application presented for admission to the Bar of this Court reveals that the Disciplinary Board of the Washington State Bar Association concluded that applicant should be suspended from practice for one year. On appeal the Supreme Court of Washington reduced the suspension to a reprimand.

The Bar Association summarized applicant's conduct as follows:

"Mr. Caplinger has violated his Oath of Attorney and the Code of Professional Responsibility by allowing his own interests in the financial affairs of his client to interfere with the proper conduct of his duties as an attorney. He has not provided his client with an accounting. He misled a court, a fellow attorney [both, by not revealing the existence of a late-discovered heir], a mortgage company and his own client. He mixed personal and client's funds. He placed a mortgage upon his client's property without advising them [sic] he was doing so. He failed to protect his client's interest by not documenting the understanding concerning the nature of the security interest and by allowing deeds which purported to convey an absolute interest to be filed.

"All of this constitutes substantial conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice and contrary to Mr. Caplinger's Oath of Attorney. Such conduct merits a one year suspension."

In reducing the penalty to a reprimand, the Washington Supreme Court stated, contrary to the conclusions of the Bar Disciplinary Board:

". . . we find no evidence of moral turpitude in regard to respondent Caplinger's conduct. The Bar Association has stated in this court, 'No one has suggested that Mr. Caplinger has stolen or misused these funds.' There also is no evidence that the interests of his client or others were harmed by the actions of Caplinger. Furthermore, Capliner has not previously been disciplined and this is the first time his conduct has been under review by the disciplinary board.

"We neither approve of nor excuse Mr. Caplinger's encumbrancing estate property without court approval . However, we do note evidence that the respondent was attempting to recover advances made to his client by his mortgage on December 28, 1972." 89 Wash. 2d 828, 836, 576 P. 2d 48, 52 (1978). (Emphasis added.)

With deference to the Washington Supreme Court's decision to reduce the sanction, which is its exclusive province and responsibility, this applicant's conduct was in my view a plain violation of his oath as an attorney and the Code of Professional Responsibility.*fn1 He engaged in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice, (CPR) DR 1-102(A)(5); he failed to preserve the identity of his client's funds, (CPR) DR 9-102(B)(2), (3) and (4); and he failed to conduct his business relations with a client in accordance with elementary and universally accepted standards of professional conduct (CPR) DR 5-104(A).

I need not pass on the conclusion of the State court that applicant's misconduct did not involve moral turpitude; however, at a minimum, his actions manifested serious misconduct falling, in my opinion, far short of this Court's purported standard that to become a Member of the Bar and an Officer of this Court, an applicant must show that he "appears to the Court to be of good moral and professional character." (Emphasis added.) Supreme Court Rules, Rule 5.1.

Canon 1 of the ABA Code of Professional Responsibility*fn2 stresses a positive duty upon all attorneys to maintain the integrity of the bar, to improve its competence and to meet the highest standards of professional responsibility. (EC 1-1.) Canon 1 further requires an attorney recommending a bar applicant to "satisfy himself that the applicant is of good moral character." (EC 1-3.) The reason is clear:

"The public should be protected from those who are not qualified to be lawyers by reason of a deficiency in education or moral standards or of other relevant factors but who nevertheless seek to practice law. To assure the maintenance of high moral and educational standards of the legal profession, lawyers should affirmatively assist courts and other appropriate bodies in prom legating, enforcing, and improving requirements for admission to the bar . . . ." (EC 1-2.)*fn3

As attorneys owe an affirmative duty to the courts to maintain high standards of conduct and appropriate standards for admission to the bar, certainly the courts themselves -- including this Court -- bear no less a burden. When a court satisfies itself that an applicant possesses the requirements for admission to the bar, it does so by issuing an order that is no less judicial in nature than other decisions it renders. Its order is a ...


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