A few weeks ago the Washington Post published the unusual story of Shon Hopwood, a member of the D.C. Bar and a tenure-track faculty member at the Georgetown University Law Center. He spent 11 years in federal prison for robbing banks n Nebraska—that’s banks, plural—became a jailhouse “lawyer,” got a scholarship to law school, was somehow approved as meeting the character provisions required for bar membership, and now amuses his Georgetown law students with tales about how when he played basketball in federal prison, he had to carry a shank in case his team started to lose.
You should read his story, which I’m sure will enrich Hopwood in a movie deal, if it hasn’t already, but you shouldn’t have to read it before you answer today’s Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz:
Should a convicted bank robber be teaching law students?
I got in an argument over the case with a D.C. Superior Court judge last week. You can guess what she said: “I believe in redemption.”
I believe in redemption, I guess, although I know it occurs about 3% of the time that people claim redemption, if that. However, there is no reason that redemption has to include counter-intuitive trust. “Does redemption mean that a bank should hire a rehabilitated bank robber? Does it mean a company should install him as its treasurer or its accountant?” I asked the judge. She didn’t answer me.
Being a convicted felon means that many things law-abiding citizens can do are limited or forbidden. Among them, sometimes with state variations, are
Being a juror
Possessing any firearm or ammunition
Service in the Armed Forces.
Serving as a police officer
Being granted various Federal Licenses.
Traveling to Canada without a special application
But an ex-felon teaching young men and women about the law, how to be a lawyer, and the requirements of the profession raises no red flags?
I don’t understand how and why the District found that a former bank robber was an acceptable candidate for a law license. Stephen Glass, a former star journalist who was publicly disgraced for being revealed as a liar who made up many of his stories, was rejected for admission to the California bar because it was felt that his dishonesty in another profession more than a decade ago disqualified him. (Glass got his law degree at…Georgetown Law Center.) Stephen Glass, however, committed no crime, and was never convicted or jailed. I have found very few lawyers sympathetic to Glass, yet several who get all misty-eyed about the redemption of Shon Hopwood. How does the profession reconcile this?
I haven’t met Professor Hopson, but I might: I’m around the Law Center, my alma mater and former employer where I founded a still-active student theater company, frequently. I bet he’s charming, engaging and impressive. I bet I would like him. I bet I would feel bad about writing this. Nonetheless, people who set out to break the law and do so by committing major crimes should not be enforcing the law, practicing law, or teaching law. They cannot be trusted, no matter how charming they are, or how far they have come since their release.
There are many other ways they can be redeemed, and I wish them all the success in the world pursuing them..
Pointer: Lost the name of my tipster! Whoever you are, thanks!