Commercial Litigation and Arbitration

Suspension by State Authorities Does Not Disqualify Lawyer from Appearing in Federal Court

Jimenez v. Brazil Ethanol, Inc., 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 137771 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 29, 2011):

... Plaintiff's attorney is currently suspended from the practice of law in New York State. ... By an order issued by the Committee on Grievances of the Southern District of New York, [Plaintiff's attorney], also previously suspended from the practice of law in this court, was reinstated.... Based on these facts, BEI moves to disqualify [Plaintiff's attorney], arguing that despite being in good standing in the Southern District, [Plaintiff's attorney's] suspension in New York means that "[Plaintiff's attorney] is not permitted to act generally or to independently represent clients in this District." BEI's Reply Brief at 11. We disagree.

This case is governed by Sperry v. Florida, which prohibits a "State's licensing board [to have] a virtual power of review over [a] federal determination." 373 U.S. 379, 385 (1963). It is well-settled that "[t]he two judicial systems of courts, the state judicatures and the federal judiciary, have autonomous control over the conduct of their officers, among whom ... lawyers are included." Theard v. United States, 354 U.S. 278, 281 (1957). Were it otherwise — were it such that an attorney's license to practice in federal courts could be conditioned on the presence or absence of his or her state license — the effect would be to strip federal courts of their "inherent authority" to decide who can appear before them. See In re Snyder, All U.S. 634, 643 (1985). Indeed, addressing facts analogous to those before us, the Second Circuit concluded that "[a]lthough an attorney must be admitted to a state bar in order to be admitted to the Southern District bar ... the subsequent revocation of the state bar membership does not automatically disqualify an attorney from the continued practice of law in the district court." In re Gouiran, 58 F.3d 54, 57 (2d Cir. 1995). [Plaintiff's attorney] was suspended by this court and was reinstated by this court. Insofar as he is in good standing as a member of trie bar of the Southern District of New York, then his standing vis-á-vis the courts of the State of New York is irrelevant. BEI's motion to disqualify [Plaintiff's attorney] is denied.

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