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Commonwealth of Massachusetts

NO. BD-84-013

IN RE: STEPHEN LEVINE

S.J.C. Order of Reinstatement entered by Justice Ireland on June 3, 2002.1

HEARING PANEL REPORT

I. Introduction.

The Petitioner, Stephen Levine, was suspended from the practice of law for a period of five years by order of the Supreme Judicial Court entered on June 10, 1985. Petitioner had previously pled guilty to a charge of possession of cocaine and the suspension was made retroactive to December 29, 1983, the date on which he ceased to practice law as a condition of the terms of his probation. The Petitioner filed a Petition for Reinstatement on October 15, 2001 and his reinstatement questionnaire on October 29, 2001. A hearing on the Petition was held on January 14, 2002, before a Panel consisting of Mitchell H. Kaplan (Chair), M. Ellen Carpenter and Robert J. Guttentag. The Panel heard testimony from two witnesses and received into evidence various exhibits. At the conclusion of the hearing, Bar Counsel requested that the record remain open for the purpose of receiving into evidence certain of the Petitioner's medical records and an updated evaluation from Jeffrey Fortgang, Ph.D., of Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers. Petitioner did not object. Both the medical records and evaluation have since been submitted and added to the record of these proceedings. Bar Counsel has informed the Panel that he does not oppose the Petition. In consideration of the testimony, exhibits and updated evaluation, the Panel recommends that the Petition be allowed.

II. Facts.

A. Disciplinary Background and Prior Proceedings.

Petitioner graduated from the University of Massachusetts in 1965. He was then employed as a social worker. He entered Western New England College School of Law in 1971 and graduated in December, 1975. He was admitted to the Bar in January, 1977. Petitioner practiced primarily in the area of criminal law and had substantial trial experience in the district courts, as well as some Superior Court trials and appeals. He was also regularly engaged by other lawyers in the Springfield area to perform legal research and writing in their cases.

In 1983, Petitioner was contacted by a former client who was indebted to Petitioner for an unpaid fee. The former client offered Petitioner cocaine as payment for the fee, which Petitioner accepted. The former client was, however, participating in a "sting" operation with a federal drug enforcement agent. After accepting the cocaine, Petitioner was promptly arrested and, ultimately, pled guilty to a charge of unlawful possession of a Class B Controlled Substance. A more serious charge of "intent to distribute'' was continued without a finding for five years and eventually dismissed. Petitioner was sentenced to one year of incarceration, which was suspended, and a three-year period of probation. As a special condition of that probation, Petitioner was formally prohibited from practicing law for five years. As noted above, Petitioner was suspended from the practice of law for five years by order of the Supreme Judicial Court, retroactive to December 29, 1983, the date his guilty plea was accepted.

Petitioner was an occasional user of cocaine before his arrest. It appears that he stopped its use at that time. Petitioner apparently engaged in little productive activity over the next several years, earning very little income. This was, in some part, the result of recurrent health problems. During this period, he did not undertake any activities to maintain his learning in the law.

Nonetheless, Petitioner applied for reinstatement to the bar in 1990. That petition was denied on July 22, 1992. The Hearing Panel Report filed in connection with that petition noted that Petitioner had, to that point, done nothing to prepare himself for readmission, either by way of continuing legal education or employment in activities that would ready him to resume practice. Among other things, the Panel Report recommended that Petitioner consider applying to the Supreme Judicial Court for permission to work as a paralegal.

B. The Period 1994 to the Present.

In 1994, Petitioner applied to the Court for leave to work as a paralegal. His motion was allowed on June 14, 1994. Thereafter, he sought and obtained work from various attorneys in the Springfield area, performing legal research and writing for them on various cases. He also began regularly to visit the law library at Western New England College School of Law and to read Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly and the advance sheets. Attorney Roy Anderson testified at the hearing on behalf of Petitioner. He was one of the first attorneys from whom Petitioner sought hourly work in 1994, and he now employs Petitioner as a salaried paralegal. Mr. Anderson praised the nature and quality of the legal work Petitioner performed for him. Letters from other Springfield attorneys who had engaged Petitioner on an hourly basis to assist them were also received in evidence. All of these attorneys attested to the high quality of Petitioner's work product.

During the past two years, Petitioner has also taken three continuing legal education seminars addressing civil and criminal trial topics. He has also taken and passed the MPRE.

As noted above, Attorney Anderson hired Petitioner as an employee of his law office approximately a year ago. Mr. Anderson testified that he has encouraged Petitioner to attend continuing legal education courses that complement the work of his office and, if readmitted, that he would continue to employ Petitioner, referring him cases on which to work. He also indicated that he would support Petitioner in his efforts to develop a criminal trial practice to supplement the civil case load that he would refer to him. For his part, Petitioner expressed his desire to continue his association with Mr. Anderson were he to be readmitted.

Some concern was expressed by members of the Panel as to Petitioner's sobriety, since his criminal conviction arose out of his prior use of illicit drugs. Petitioner testified at the hearing that he had not used any illegal drugs since 1983 and was not dependent on alcohol. At the conclusion of the hearing, Bar Counsel nonetheless requested that the record be kept open to obtain Petitioner's current medical records and a thorough evaluation of available medical information by Dr. Jeffrey Fortgang of Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers. Petitioner did not object to Bar Counsel's request. These medical records were obtained, and Dr. Fortgang's February 28, 2002 report, based on Petitioner's records and interviews with Petitioner and others, was received. Dr. Fortgang reported that he had seen no information suggesting that Petitioner had an alcohol/drug problem or any other clinical problem that would "affect his functioning as a paralegal or potentially as a lawyer."

Petitioner regularly attends Temple Beth El in Springfield and meets frequently with his Rabbi Herbert N. Schwartz. Rabbi Schwartz submitted a letter in support of Petitioner's readmission, describing him as intelligent and principled.

III. Conclusions.

On a petition for reinstatement, the Petitioner has the burden of proving that he has the moral qualifications required for admission to practice law; that he has the competency and learning in law required for admission; and that his resumption of practice will not be detrimental to the integrity or standing of the bar, the administration of justice or the public interest. S.J.C. Rule 4:01, §18(5); Matter of Cappiello, 416 Mass. 340, 9 Mass. Att'y. Disc. R. 47 (1993); Matter of Waitz, 416 Mass. 298, 9 Mass. Att'y. Disc. R. 336 (1993). In evaluating a petition for reinstatement, the true test must always be the public welfare. Matter of Waitz, supra.

The Panel concludes that Petitioner understood and responded to the recommendations made in the Hearing Panel Report filed in response to his first, unsuccessful petition for reinstatement. After applying for and receiving the Court's permission to work as a paralegal in 1994, he sought out attorneys in the Springfield area and asked them to employ him as a paralegal. He received case work from several. The attorneys who engaged him thought very highly of his work, comparing it favorably to that of other practicing attorneys in the area, and they support Petitioner's readmission. To the Panel's knowledge, no one has objected to his Petition for Reinstatement. Attorney Anderson was sufficiently impressed by the quality of Petitioner's work, his diligence and his dedication to his clients to offer Petitioner a salaried position in his firm and to express a desire to continue the association, if Petitioner is readmitted. Petitioner has regularly visited the law library for the past several years and taken appropriate steps to restore his learning in the law. While it has taken him a number of years, the Panel concludes that Petitioner has rehabilitated himself morally, developed a sense of purpose, and prepared himself intellectually to be a productive member of the Bar. Bar Counsel does not object to his Petition and the Panel recommends that Petitioner be reinstated.

IV. Recommendation.

For the foregoing reasons, the Panel recommends that Petitioner be reinstated to the Bar of the Commonwealth.

Respectfully submitted,

Mitchell H. Kaplan, Chair
M. Ellen Carpenter
Robert J. Guttentag

1 The complete Order of the Court is available by contacting the Clerk of the Supreme Judicial Court for Suffolk County.



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