The Oklahoma Supreme Court has denied the application of former Oklahoma attorney James E. Golden Jr. to be reinstated into the practice of law. The court was not convinced Golden’s moral character had improved since he was disbarred April 22, 2008 after pleading to a federal charge of misprision of a felony.
The opinion denying Golden’s application highlighted the court’s expectations of moral fitness when a disbarred attorney seeks reinstatement. No new evidence was cited indicating deficiency in Golden’s moral character, but neither was any evidence presented to show his character had changed since the time he was disbarred.
The Bar Association’s Professional Responsibility Tribunal had recommended against Golden’s application after a trial panel accepted the Bar Association’s opposition to his reinstatement. The Supreme Court’s reasoning in their de novo review followed the trial panel’s findings that Golden had not shown evidence of change in his moral character. The court imposed $2,129.26 in costs for his reinstatement application and hearings.
While the opinion centered on failure to show evidence of a change in his moral character, the court cited other factors that weighed against his reinstatement, including “the fact that at the same time Golden presented himself as among the most ethical in the profession, the applicant engaged in activities he knew to amount to misconduct,”
Disbarred for Role in Healthcare Fraud
Golden was disbarred after he was sentenced for his role in a health-care fraud coverup and a scheme to defraud his client’s employees of pension funds. He had been ordered to pay more than $5.7 million in restitution.
Additional factors weighing against his reinstatement included his lack of convincing remorse, failure to pay penalties and application for reinstatement soon after the minimum term of his disbarment had lapsed. The court did not find evidence in testimony of eight witnesses who testified in fGolden’s behalf that his moral character had improved since he’d been debarred.
The court noted that one witness’ opinion rested primarily on Golden’s role as a father. Others testified Golden had the same moral characteristics as when he was involved in the shceme that led to his disbarment. Only one witness testified to an improvement in Golden’s moral compass, the court noted. On his own behalf, Golden testified he was “more so than ever committed to high standards of ethics.”
The court found that “perhaps the most concerning factor” was the contrast between Golden’s brilliance and talent while practicing as an attorney and the unethical, illegal activities he engaged in at the same time. Golden, who was originally licensed as an attorney in 1981, had engaged in the scheme for which he was disbarred since at least 1999. In the mean time, he’d sat on a professional committee that reviewed Model Code of Judicial Conduct, and chaired the Bar Association’s legal ethics committee from 2005 through 2007.
Although he had initially paid $500 monthly toward the $5.7 million restitution obligation, Golden later reduced the payments to $100 monthly. An irrevocable trust shielded some of his former assets for use by his family. In the final analysis, the court said whatever remorse Golden expressed tends to indicate remorse for the consequences of his actions on himself and his family, but not so much for the victims of his misdeeds.
Golden Remains an Inactive Texas Attorney
Golden remains an inactive member of the Texas bar association. He said he had not sought to reactivate that license. The Texas Bar Association Web site lists his address as Oklahoma City and includes an Oklahoma City phone number. The Web site does not list any disciplinary actions against Golden in Texas.
A public affairs spokesperson for the Texas Bar Association, Claire Mock, said if an attorney were to seek to reactivate a Texas license, he would not automatically be denied due to a criminal conviction or disbarment in another state. “However, he is subject to the disciplinary process, which could result in his disbarment,” Mock wrote in an e-mail response.
Read the full Supreme Court opinion In The Matter Of The Reinstatement Of Golden (2013 OK 96) here.