Tim Dunn/Reno Gazette-Journal
Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2013 | 5:44 p.m.
The Nevada Supreme Court ruled 4-2 on Wednesday to reject the plea of convicted felon and influential lobbyist Harvey Whittemore to temporarily continue his law practice.
"We believe that the public's confidence in the legal profession and judicial system would be diminished were we to allow Whittemore to continue to practice law," the court's majority opinion said.
Whittemore was convicted in federal court of making an estimated $150,000 in illegal campaign contributions. He was found guilty of making excessive political campaign contributions, making contributions in the name of another and filing a false statement with the Federal Election Commission. He is appealing that conviction to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
On Oct. 8, the court suspended Whittemore's license until the Nevada Bar Association decides what disciplinary action should be taken against him.
Whittemore petitioned the court to lift his suspension until the Bar Association recommends a penalty, which will be separate from his criminal conviction, for which he was sentenced to prison for two years starting Jan. 31, 2014. In his petition, he said he has never been disciplined by the Bar Association before and is an upstanding member of the community in Reno. He argued that his convictions had nothing to do with his law practice.
The Supreme Court's majority opinion said that at least two of Whittemore's three convictions — making contributions in the name of another and filing false statements to federal officials — required proof that he "acted knowingly and willfully, indicating a dishonest intent."
The opinion quoted the rules of misconduct for a lawyer: "It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to commit a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other aspects."
Justice Ron Parraguirre voluntarily excused himself from the proceedings. The reason for his decision was not immediately available.
Justices James Hardesty and Mark Gibbons voted in favor of Whittemore's plea, arguing Whittemore's license to practice law should be reinstated until the Bar Association's decision is made and that Whittemore should be permitted to represent current clients but be prohibited from appearing in a Nevada court. In their decision, the two justices said the crimes Whittemore was convicted of were in a business setting, not in the practice of law; the crimes occurred nearly seven years ago; and "a legitimate dispute exists concerning the legal issues to be presented at his criminal appeal."