A lawyer’s conviction of felony possession of child pornography amounts to moral turpitude in every case and thus automatic disbarment, the California Supreme Court ruled unanimously Thursday.
This is the first time the high court has weighed in on whether possession of child pornography should be grounds for automatic disbarment.
The ruling comes in the case of Gary Douglass Grant, who became a lawyer in 1994. In 2009, pled guilty to a single count of felony possession of photos of minors under 18 years old. The photos were among a collection of nearly 300,000 pornographic images, almost all legal photos of adults, that were found on Grant’s computers during a police search in 2008.
Grant, of Aliso Viejo, admitted having the images on his computer but initially denied he intended to have pictures of the underage girls saying he found them “repugnant” and deleted them, according to the court. He nonetheless pled guilty to possession because they were fleetingly on his computer. He admitted during a four-day bar trial that he was addicted to porn, but insisted the images of young girls were downloaded by mistake.
The Chief Trial Counsel for the State Bar initially asked the Bar’s Review Department to disbar Grant and hold that such a felony conviction is a crime of mural turpitude per se, subject to automatic disbarment.
Grant argued that possession of child porn is not moral turpitude in every instance and thus should not result in automatic disbarment.
A hearing judge recommended disbarment. But the Review Department rejected the recommendation and instead said Grant should be placed on probation for three years, with two years of actual suspension from practice of law.
The Chief Trial Counsel appealed.
“Grant pleaded guilty to the felony of knowingly possessing child pornography,” write Justice Carol Corrigan. “The only question here is whether that crime, as admitted by him, constitutes moral turpitude per se. It does,” she wrote.
She cited prior holdings that state victimization of children does not stop when the pornographer puts the camera away.
Although Grant claimed to dispose of the images immediately, the testimony was rejected as unbelievable by the hearing judge, Corrigan said.
“The knowing possession of child pornography is ‘a serious breach of the duties of respect and care that all adults owe to all children, and it shows such a flagrant disrespect for the law and for societal norms, that continuation of a [convicted attorney’s] State Bar membership would be likely to undermine public confidence in and respect for the legal profession,’” Corrigan wrote.
Case: In re Gary D. Grant on Discipline, No. S197503
(See my earlier detailed reporting on the case here. California Lawyer Magazine.)