Ex Parte Wall - 107 U.S. 265 (1883)
U.S. Supreme Court
Ex Parte Wall, 107 U.S. 265 (1883)
Ex Parte Wall
Decided April 16, 1883
107 U.S. 265
A rule was made by the Circuit Court of the United States for the Southern District of Florida, which, after reciting that it had come to the knowledge of the court that W., an attorney of the court, did, on a day specified, engage in and with an unlawful, tumultuous, and riotous gathering, he advising and encouraging thereto, take from the jail of Hillsborough County, and hang by the neck until he was dead, one John, otherwise unknown, thereby showing such an utter disregard and contempt for the law which, as a sworn attorney, he was bound to support, as shows him to be totally unfitted to occupy such position; thereupon cited him to appear at a certain time and show cause why his name should not be stricken from the roll. The attorney appeared and answered, denying the charge in mass, and excepting to the jurisdiction of the court (1) because there was no charge against him under oath; (2) because the offense charged was a crime by the laws of Florida for which he was liable to be indicted and convicted. The court overruled the exceptions, and called a witness who proved the charge, showing that the hanging took place before the courthouse door during a temporary recess of the court; thereupon the court made an order striking W.'s name from the roll. On motion made here for a mandamus to compel the judge of that court to reverse this order, and he having answered the rule, showing the special circumstances of the case,
1. That although not strictly regular to grant a rule to show cause why an attorney should not be struck off the roll without an affidavit making charges against him, yet that under the special circumstances of this case, the want of such affidavit did not render the proceeding void as coram non judice.
2. That the acts charged against the attorney constituted sufficient ground for striking his name from the roll.
3. That although in ordinary cases where an attorney commits an indictable offense not in his character of attorney and does not admit the charge, the courts will not strike his name from the roll until he has been regularly indicted and convicted, yet that the rule is not an inflexible one; that there may be cases in which it is proper for the court to proceed without such previous conviction, and that the present case, in view of its special circumstances, the evasive denial of the charge, the clearness of the proof, and the failure to offer any counter proof, was one in which the court might lawfully exercise its summary powers.
4. That the proceeding to strike an attorney from the roll is one within the proper jurisdiction of the court of which he is an attorney, and does not violate the constitutional provision which requires an indictment and trial by jury in criminal cases; that it is not a criminal proceeding, and not intended for punishment, but to protect the court from the official ministration of persons unfit to practice as attorneys therein.
5. That such a proceeding is not an invasion of the constitutional provision that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, but that the proceeding itself, when instituted in proper cases, is due process of law.
6. That, as the court below did not exceed its powers in taking cognizance of the case, no such irregularity occurred in the proceeding as to require this Court to interpose by the writ of mandamus.
The case is fully stated in the opinion of the Court.