|FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER'S FATE In arguing for a two-year suspension, a Board of Bar Overseers panel cited Thomas Finneran's long public service.|
Finneran seeking to regain law license lost in federal case
Board meets today to weigh the charges
As House speaker, Thomas Finneran was once so powerful he was dubbed "King Tom." Then he pleaded guilty to a federal obstruction of justice charge, and his law license was temporarily suspended in 2007.
But if Finneran has his way, he could soon be practicing law again.
The Board of Bar Overseers, which considers disciplinary charges against lawyers, is set to meet today to weigh Finneran's future as an attorney.
A three-member panel of the board has recommended that Finneran's license be suspended for two years. Finneran has asked for a one-year suspension, which would make him eligible for reinstatement immediately. But the Office of the Bar Counsel, which prosecutes attorney misconduct cases, is recommending a much harsher punishment: disbarment.
The state Supreme Judicial Court will have the final say on Finneran's punishment.
Finneran is also seeking a presidential pardon of his conviction.
The Globe reported this month that Finneran had lined up a group of former Massachusetts governors to support his request to President Bush.
Finneran's law license was temporarily suspended after he pleaded guilty to the felony obstruction charge for lying about his role in a redistricting plan that diluted the clout of minority voters.
In arguing for a two-year suspension, rather than a tougher sanction, the Board of Bar Overseers panel cited Finneran's long record of public service. The panel also noted remarks by the judge and federal prosecutor during Finneran's sentencing hearing that there was no evidence Finneran had "racial animus" or that he intentionally tried to dilute the voting power of minorities in his district or other districts.
The panel also credited Finneran's claim that his judgment may have been clouded the day he testified because he was suffering from severe pain in his hip and was also concerned about his wife, whom he had taken to the hospital that day because of a knee injury.
Another mitigating factor, according to the panel, was that Finneran's misconduct did not occur while he was practicing law.
"A sanction less than disbarment is warranted when a lawyer was acting as a private citizen," the panel wrote in its Oct. 20 report.
But First Assistant Bar Counsel Nancy Kaufman called for Finneran to be disbarred and said he was not acting as a private citizen, but as the speaker of the state House of Representatives.
"The conduct strikes at the heart of a lawyer's obligation to protect the integrity of the court. Moreover, the respondent [Finneran] lied not in a garden-variety civil matter, but in a case brought to protect the voting rights of the minorities residing in Boston," Kaufman wrote in an Oct. 30 appeal of the hearing panel's recommendation for a two-year suspension.
Finneran's lawyer, Arnold Rosenfeld, argues that a one-year suspension is punishment enough.
He "has paid a public price for his misconduct - not just the shame and embarrassment he spoke so eloquently about to the court - but loss of his job, loss of his right to vote, loss of his ability to run for office for five years, and at least the temporary loss of his law license," Rosenfeld wrote in documents filed with the board.
Finneran, who now hosts a morning talk show on WRKO-AM, did not return calls seeking comment Friday. Messages were left at his home and at the radio station. Rosenfeld also did not return a call seeking comment. During his sentencing hearing, Finneran said he was offended and angered by the claims of racial bias made in the lawsuit.
Michael Fredrickson, general counsel to the board, said the panel probably will take an initial vote on Finneran's punishment today, then follow up with a formal vote at its meeting next month.