BEFORE HAWKINS, DAN LEE AND ANDERSON
DAN LEE, JUSTICE, FOR THE COURT:
After pleading guilty to two (2) separate drug charges, James Alexander Williams entered into a consent order of disbarment with the Mississippi State Bar on March 13, 1981. As a condition of the order, Williams dismissed an appeal that he was taking on a third drug conviction.
On August 29, 1984, Williams filed his petition for reinstatement. The Board of Commissioners of the State Bar did not oppose the petition, but forwarded its investigation and report to this Court. Based upon the information in the report, this Court ordered a hearing on the petition, and appointed Retired Justice R. P. Sugg as Special Master for that purpose.
At the hearing held on December 10, 1984, Williams testified and presented eleven witnesses who testified in his behalf. The Board of Bar Commissioners presented no testimony; however, in closing argument, counsel for the Bar argued that Williams had not shown sufficient evidence for reinstatement. In his report, Retired Justice Sugg recommended that the petition for reinstatement be denied. Williams has appealed and assigns as error:
1) That he was denied due process in the hearing;
2) That he was denied reinstatement based on acts
which were innocent when done, but which later became the subject of an adverse ethics opinion; and
3) That the Special Master impermissibly considered his religious beliefs as part of the denial of reinstatement.
On December 14, 1977, Kemper County authorities issued a warrant for the search of Williams' residence. The return on that warrant indicates that a large quantity of drugs was seized, forming the basis for the two (2) charges to which Williams pled guilty. After Williams' guilty plea and withdrawal of appeal of a third offense, he was sentenced to three years' imprisonment and served eight and one-half (8 1/2) months in the Lauderdale County Jail, as a trusty in the law labrary. Meridian attorney Roy Pitts sponsored his work release in 1981, and Williams worked for Pitts for some time as a paralegal, law clerk, and secretary. While employed by Pitts, Williams did legal research and writing for several other attorneys. He had no contact with the general public, except in a secretarial capacity while working in Pitts' office.
When Pitts became involved in his own disciplinary proceedings, Williams terminated his employment and opened his own office. Initially, he had a sign on his door with his name and the phrase" Paralegal Services; "however, after learning that there was some concern about the sign, he removed it from his door.
Shortly after filing his petition for reinstatement, Williams became aware of Ethics Opinion Number 96, stating that it is improper for an attorney to employ a disbarred attorney in his office as a paralegal or law clerk. Williams was not working for another attorney at the time; nevertheless, he obtained copies of the opinion and circulated them to the lawyers for whom he had worked. Since then, he has not accepted employment in another attorney's office.
Williams' petition for reinstatement stated that he had rehabilitated himself, that he had kept abreast of legal developments, that he had assisted judges and lawyers as a paralegal, that he had earned enough to pay his own way as a citizen, that he had participated in civic and political activities in the community, and that he had paid the five thousand dollar ($5,000) fine which was imposed on him by the court.
Williams' testimony at the hearing outlined the various
steps that he had taken since his release to rehabilitate himself and to maintain his knowledge of the law. He stated that he had used drugs on a social basis at the time he was arrested, but that he had ceased to use drugs, and had disassociated himself from his old friends. Since his arrest, he has had few close associates; he named only three who remained. While Williams' arrest record precluded him from membership in many civic organizations, ...