Board Recommends Finneran Disbarment: Why Can’t The Smart Learn?

Friday the 13th proved to be definitely not a good day for former Massachusetts House Speaker Tom Finneran. The Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers (BBO) formally issued its long-awaited decision today, regarding the former Speaker’s future ability to practice law in Massachusetts.

The 12-member board, eight of whom are lawyers, recommended complete disbarment. Only one board member voted to impose a lesser sanction, the two-year suspension previously recommended by the board. That vote was cast by Erik Lund, who wrote that “The circumstances in which Mr. Finneran’s felonious conduct occurred should lead to a lesser sanction than that of disbarment.”

As I blogged on previously, Finneran’s license to practice was suspended for two years in 2007 after he pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice by giving false testimony in a federal lawsuit over his role in a 2002 legislative redistricting plan that diminished minority voting clout. This disbarment recommendation is the result of Finneran’s decision to appeal that Board’s two-year suspension recommendation. Contesting his appeal, the Board’s Office of Bar Counsel, which prosecutes attorney misconduct cases, responded by recommending his complete disbarment, and they won the day. Separately, in December 2008, Finneran also requested that President Bush issue him a pardon before Bush left office. Bush declined to act on Finneran’s application. As I wrote of previously, Finneran doubtless hoped that a Presidential pardon would elevate his chances in his appeal of the Board’s previous two-year suspension. No dice.

In its decision, the Board wrote that “The purpose, but fortunately not the effect, of his false testimony was to impede the claim and to obscure his own role in the development of the illegal plan,” the board wrote in its decision. “Disbarment is the presumptive discipline for a lawyer who is convicted of a felony or a crime involving obstruction of justice of false swearing.” Unbelievably, Finneran’s chief answer or ‘explanation’ to the false testimony charge was to say that an arthritic hip was bothering him, and that he was concerned over his wife’s own orthopedic health condition. I was stunned that this is the best response that he and his lawyer could come up with. Really, I was. Finneran is an extremely bright man. I can’t believe he thought these types of anemic, hollow answers would succeed in his appeal.

While formally speaking the Board’s recommendation is just that – a recommendation – the state Supreme Judicial Court has the final say here, as only it can disbar an attorney – I highly doubt they will not adopt this recommendation. Hence, there is, theoretically, still a “chance” that the SJC will disagree with the Board’s recommendation, and impose a lesser penalty on Finneran. Because of this, Finneran has publicly stated that he plans to appeal the recommendation to the SJC (which would be before a single justice of the court.) But I wouldn’t bank on it.

This is all really too bad. Finneran is an extremely bright man who by most accounts (except those of radio talkmeister Howie Carr, who ironically is a colleague of Finneran’s at WRKO-AM 680, as Finneran is the morning drive-time host there) is a good guy. But its almost axiomatic that most ‘good guys’ lose their moral bearings when they walk the halls of power. Now he will be permanently identified with a couple of age-old saws: One, “How The Mighty Fall“, and two, that age-old warning from Lord Acton: “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”