Losing my profession: The Alaska Bar Association vs. F. P. Pettyjohn

I’m about to lose my license to practice law in Alaska.  I have been given notice by the Bar Association that I will be disbarred for an ethical failure: to wit, I have violated Rule 66 of the Bar Rules.  I will resist this disbarment, but my chances aren’t good.  My fate will ultimately be decided by the Alaska Supreme Court, and none of these people have any use for me.  The feeling is mutual.

It is alleged that I have failed to file the form certifying that I have complied with Rule 65 (d).  This rule requires that I receive ethical training, by taking in a class in Continuing Legal Education each year.

The fact that I have honorably practiced law in Alaska for 44 years is irrelevant.  I, like every other practicing lawyer in Alaska, each year I must be subjected to a lecture about ethical legal behavior by someone with more knowledge about it than I do.

And, indeed, my knowledge is primitive.  To me, legal ethics consists of three rules

  1. Don’t steal from your client.
  2. Don’t lie to the court.
  3. Don’t cheat your partner.

My disbarment would be stain on my record, but I will manfully take my punishment if need be.

My defense will be based on the First Amendment.  We all have the right of free speech, and I believe this right includes the right not to listen.  You can say any damn thing you please.  That’s your right.  I have a right to pay absolutely no attention to you.  This right is being violated by forcing me to sit and listen to some highly trained specialist in legal ethics for three hours.  I also believe my disbarment would violate the Eighth Amendment, prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment.

I have subjected myself, in the past, to the ordeal of being lectured to by my ethical superiors.  But a man can take only so much, and you have to draw the line somewhere.

My disbarment proceedings have just begun, and I won’t go down without a fight.  But my chances don’t look good.  The pride I have taken in my ethical behavior for 44 years is no defense.

So, for the first time since 1974, I’ll be able to say that I’m not a lawyer.

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