In re King – 6/26/2006

June 29, 2006

Arizona Supreme Court Denies Convicted Felon’s Application to Practice Law

Lee Keller King, who was previously convicted of attempted murder, applied to practice law in Arizona in 2003. After initially recommending that the Court deny King’s application, the Committee on Character and Fitness recommended King’s admission following a second hearing in 2005. The Court, on its own motion, continued consideration of King’s application and independently determined that King did not possess the requisite character and fitness to gain admission to practice law in Arizona.

The Court determined that King did not satisfy the burden of proving complete rehabilitation from the character deficits that led to the commission of his crime. Citing In re Hamm, 211 Ariz. 458, 123 P.3d 652 (2005), the Court found that attempted murder was a “case of extremely damning past misconduct,” and found that King’s evidence fell “short of the ‘virtually impossible’ showing needed to erase the stain of his criminal misconduct.” The Court found that King had failed accept responsibility for his past criminal conduct and that he had neither identified nor overcome the weakness that led to his unlawful conduct. The Court emphasized that it had not adopted a bright-line rule to disqualify convicted felons from practicing law in Arizona, but felt that King had failed to present the quantum of evidence required to satisfy his “extraordinary” burden.

Justice Hurwitz dissented, concluding that in practice the Court had adopted the very bright-line rule it purported to abjure. The dissent noted that King had been admitted to the Texas bar in 1994, had been a model citizen for nearly thirty years, and had convinced the Committee on Character and Fitness that he was credible and rehabilitated. The dissent further rejected the application of the “virtually impossible” standard in this case, noting the distinctions between first-degree murder (the felony in In re Hamm) and attempted murder. Justice Hurwitz concluded that King had met his difficult burden in establishing rehabilitation and good moral character.

Judge Timmer, sitting for Justice Scott Bales (who recused himself) authored the opinion; Justices McGregor, Berch, and Ryan concurred. Justice Hurwitz dissented.