(CN) - Attorneys convicted of child-pornography possession face automatic disbarment, the California Supreme Court ruled.
Such convictions involve acts of moral turpitude that reveal attorneys as unfit to practice law, according to the unanimous Jan. 23 decision.
"The knowing possession of child pornography is 'a serious breach of the duties of respect and care that all adults owe to all children, and it show[s] such a flagrant disrespect for the law and for societal norms, that continuation of [a convicted attorney's] State Bar membership would be likely to undermine public confidence in and respect for the legal profession,'" Justice Carol Corrigan wrote for the high court.
In this case, attorney Gary D. Grant pleaded guilty in 2009 to possessing child pornography.
A state bar hearing judge ruled for disbarment after determining the conviction involved moral turpitude. The state bar's review department later determined the admissible evidence did not support the showing of moral turpitude and recommended Grant serve three years of probation and a two-year-long suspension.
But the California Supreme Court deemed the evidentiary admissibility or sufficiency questions irrelevant.
"Grant pleaded guilty to the felony of knowingly possessing child pornography," Corrigan wrote. "His guilty plea establishes those facts as a matter of law. The only question here is whether that crime, as admitted by him, constitutes moral turpitude per se. It does."
Although moral turpitude conceptually "defies exact description," the high court noted it should be defined in attorney-discipline cases "with the aim of protecting the public, promoting confidence in the legal system and maintaining high professional standards."
Possessing child pornography involves moral turpitude because it is "extremely repugnant to accepted moral standards" and is proximately linked to the sexual abuse of children, Corrigan wrote.
Grant dialed to show that his "simple possession" of child pornography does not "necessarily" involve moral turpitude because there is no intent to harm, offend or corrupt another person, according to the ruling.
There is "no sense" distinguishing between the producers and consumers of child pornography because "neither could exist without the other," Corrigan wrote.
"The consumer, or end recipient, of pornographic materials may be considered to be causing the children depicted in those materials to suffer as a result of his actions in at least three ways," she added. "First, the simple fact that the images have been disseminated perpetuates the abuse initiated by the producer of the materials ... The consumer who 'merely' or 'passively' receives or possesses child pornography directly contributes to this continuing victimization. Second, ... [t]he recipient of child pornography obviously perpetuates the existence of the images received, and therefore the recipient may be considered to be invading the privacy of the children depicted, directly victimizing these children. Third, the consumer of child pornography instigates the original production of child pornography by providing an economic motive for creating and distributing the materials."