But…But… It Doesn’t Mean He’s Not A Good Lawyer!

RIP, Snoopy.

This is a fascinating example of the legal community’s incomprehensible standards regarding who is and who isn’t fit to practice law.

In New York,  the bar took away lawyer Anthony A. Pastor’s license after he violently killed his girlfriend’s poodle “Snoopy.” See Matter of Pastor, 2017 NY Slip Op 06729, (App. Div. 1st Dept. Sep. 28, 2017).

An autopsy revealed that Snoopy  had nine broken ribs, a crushed kidney and massive internal bleeding, all at the hands of Pastor.

In disbarring Pastor, [ Matter of Pastor, 2017 NY Slip Op 06729, (App. Div. 1st Dept. Sep. 28, 2017)], the court noted that the sentencing judge’s comments that the respondent’s conduct “‘showed almost incomprehensible violence, and malice,’ that the dog was in ‘excruciating pain’ up until she lost consciousness while respondent ‘sat down at his computer in the most cold-blooded manner, and went to work, knowing that the dog lay dying, . . . on the floor behind him.’”


But what does it have to do with whether the creep is a competent, honest, trustworthy lawyer?

Again I note that John Edwards never faced discipline for his massive deceptions and machinations, while his wife was dying of cancer, and while he was running for President. This conduct directly implicated trust and character, yet the refrain of Edwards’ colleagues was that his deceptions and cruelty, while clearly unconscionable, did not involve the practice of law, and thus did not preclude Edwards continuing to be regarded as a trustworthy lawyer. Are they kidding? I wouldn’t trust John Edwards to mail my water bill. Still, I hear this argument all the time in my legal ethics classes. One hypothetical is about a law partner who is caught cheating at poker in a regular game among fellow attorneys. Does that conduct mandate reporting him to the bar for discipline? Most lawyers say no.

They are wrong.

Model Rule 8.3, which is substantially the same across all jurisdictions, says,

A lawyer who knows that another lawyer has committed a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct that raises a substantial question as to that lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other respects, shall inform the appropriate professional authority.

Model Rule 8.4, which defines misconduct, states in part,

It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to:

(a) violate or attempt to violate the Rules of Professional Conduct, knowingly assist or induce another to do so, or do so through the acts of another;

(b) commit a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other respects;

(c) engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation…

Explain to me why killing Snoopy reflects on a lawyer’s “honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer” more than cheating and committing petty theft from people who trust you.

Of course, you can’t. unless Snoopy was Pastor’s client? Killing a client is always bad.

Emotionally, I have no problem with seeing an animal abuser kicked out of my profession, but I don’t understand what values are being applied. Is it the commission of a crime? Most lawyer crimes don’t result in disbarment, if they don’t involve lying, cheating or stealing. Surely the argument used to protect Edwards, which in his case is pure rationalization, actually applies to Pastor. There is no basis on which to conclude that he isn’t competent, zealous and trustworthy—just keep him away from pets.

Now, you may well ask, “Isn’t this at least “moral turpitude?” That’s the character flaw that will keep applicants for bar membership from getting a license due to character deficiency. There are two points related to that. First, moral turpitude might keep you out of the law at the outset, but it is not one of the official no-nos that will get you kicked out of it one you are a practicing lawyer.  The legal  definition of moral turpitude is an act or behavior that gravely violates the sentiment or accepted standard of the community. Brutalizing an animal would certainly qualify. The ABA, however, greatly narrowed the definition as it was applicable to legal discipline:

The 1983 Model Code (periodically amended by the ABA House of Delegates over the last 32 years) rejected the prohibition against “illegal conduct involving moral turpitude.” The ABA’s reason, which it included in a Comment to its Rule 8.4, was quite simple: “Moral turpitude,” the ABA advised, is a “concept can be construed to include offenses concerning some matters of personal morality, such as adultery and comparable offenses, that have no specific connection to fitness for the practice of law. Although a lawyer is personally answerable to the entire criminal law, a lawyer should be professionally answerable only for offenses that indicate lack of those characteristics relevant to law practice.” The American Law Institute’s Restatement of the Law Governing Lawyers § 5 (Third) (ALI 2000), agreed. It also concluded that “moral turpitude” is vague and may lead to discriminatory or otherwise inappropriate applications.”

This looks like an Ick Factor case to me. The abuse of poor Snoopy is so viscerally repulsive that the bar and the courts can’t keep their ethical priorities in order. It is also, as particularly ugly discipline cases often are, a matter of public relations and self-preservation for the legal profession. The bar association knows that not banning a lawyer like Pastor—one hopes there aren’t many–signals to the public that the bar welcomes brilliant advocates who may be monsters in their spare time. That is a dark and dangerous road the profession would rather avoid.

Even the closest precedent makes the New York bar’s decision seem inconsistent:  in a 1993 Maryland case, a lawyer was suspended—but only suspended—for microwaving a cat.


20 thoughts on “But…But… It Doesn’t Mean He’s Not A Good Lawyer!

  1. From the headline, picture, and lede I assumed this would be a delightful article about a dog lawyer.

    Reading the rest of the article was, needless to say, a sobering experience.

    Snoopy may have not been a good lawyer, but he was, indeed, a very good boy.

  2. You know the answer to this Jack. Many lawyers (I would say probably all but this one) have never mutilated their girlfriend’s dog. Or any dog. If we’re applying “let he who has not sinned cast the first stone,” we’re gleefully heaving boulders at this guy.

    What Edwards did? That hits a little too close for home for some people.

  3. I am not questioning your ethics analysis but isn’t animal abuse often suggested as a precursor behavior of eventual sociopathic killers of humans?

  4. The guy might well be a psychopath. Cruelty to animals is a diagnostic sign. However, I’m unclear if you could be disbarred with that diagnosis per se. You would probably have to commit an overt act involving a client.

  5. “….(b) commit a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other respects;”

    Is it a criminal act to torture and kill a dog or other animal? The ASPCA and Humane Society would say so, as would many state jurisdictions, and people have gone to jail for same.

    If you don’t think it’s worth disbarring this psychopath/sociopath from the practice of law, why not — since it is now a part of his legal history — insist that this act be part of his AVVO or LinkedIn resume? Frankly, I would like to know if an animal abuser/murderer was my lawyer, regardless of his ‘fitness’ to practice law.

    This is horrifying: and although it seems to be outside the “Rules” it was a just decision in my opinion, and not only is he going to lose his income source, he is going to jail. I understand the whole concept of the slippery slope of adding Rules to fit individual circumstances, but if one can be disbarred for minor things like not protecting client confidentiality, or for major things like committing murder, when does the ‘strict constructionist’ approach end? Killing a dog — in this particularly sickening way, and with a history of another such animal murder — doesn’t apply to at least the lawyer’s ‘trustworthiness?’ Who defines ‘trustworthiness?’ Leaving your dog with your lawyer boyfriend and expect him NOT to brutalize and kill him doesn’t go to ‘trustworthiness?’ Can’t force a lawyer to not kill animals at his will? Something is wrong here, regardless of the f-ing Rules as written.

    Time to take a good long look at how bar associations interpret their own rules.

    • The fact that he killed a dog should not be the problem. It is how he killed the dog. Let me elaborate.

      I have killed dogs. We owned dogs and lived in a rural area without vet services, or such services were too expensive. If the dog got injured or sick such that his quality of life was gone, we put them down. It was humane and quick. At the time, surgeries for dog cancer and such did not exist, but we could not have afforded them anyway.

      Rogue or stray dogs sometimes killed livestock, and were shot when caught. We did not eat dogs, but did eat our livestock. If the dog had a collar, we might not shoot at first, but it was understood that a chicken killer, for example, allowed to roam might one day never return.

      Many times dogs were dumped by town folk, and if no one could care for them, they were likewise shot. Most rural farmers and ranchers already has several dogs that started as urban rejects, and you could support only so many.

      Dangerous dogs were shot in self defense. They could be rabid, or mean, or just aggressive. If they threatened us on our land, dead where they stood. If they ran deer on our deer lease, we killed them, just like coyotes. If they threatened us while hunting… you get the picture.

      Barring a shot dog who ran away, these were humane, quick endings. The point was to do what needed doing, not to make an animal suffer. One had empathy when living rural.

      Torturing a dog and letting them die in pain is repulsive and the sign of human sickness. Such existed in rural America, and were usually well known and (when possible) dealt with by the law.

  6. Jack, I would like to propose that John Edwards was a member of the club, the elite, and thus is mostly exempt from the mundane rules we mere mortals abide by.

    Justice is not blind when the rich elite are concerned, and this Pastor guy simply was not a part of the click.

    • John Edwards was indeed an elite, but he was also never convicted of any crime.

      Never convicted of campaign fraud, etc, is different in kind from convicted of stomping one’s girlfriend’s dog to death. At a bare minimum, he should be forced to disclose that to future clients (Michael Vick might be OK with him).

      Even the example of someone being suspended for “microwaving” a kitten (a piece of me died writing that sentence…), that individuals was suspended indefinitely, but allowed to reapply after a year. I could not find if did so or was successful.

      • Hillary was ‘never convicted’ of any crime… and we know damn well that if I had done what she has, I would be under the jail.

        Still an elite thing… this guy would never have been prosecuted if his name were Kennedy, Clinton, or Reid.

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