A Staten Island man who had been imprisoned in the 1980’s for dealing prescription drugs and attempting to kill his ex-girlfriend has finally been admitted to practice in the First Department, New York State Appellate Division after his nine previous attempts to be admitted, which spanned the past seventeen years, were rejected out of hand. In a 4-1 opinion for the First Department, the Court noted that Neal Wiesner’s previous crimes should not prevent him from practicing law in New York. The lone dissenting voice on the bench, Justice Saxe, argued that Wiesner should not have been admitted because he never took full responsibility for his actions. Wiesner had already been admitted to practice law in the New York federal district courts and the federal appellate courts for the Second and Third Circuits. He is also admitted to practice in New Jersey state and federal courts and in federal tax court.
Wiesner became a drug addict at an early age, and he was high school dropout. Later on, his drug use turned into drug dealing. In the early 1980’s he paid doctors to illegally prescribe Quaaludes to patients. He reaped millions from the scheme.
His life of crime eventually took an even more serious turn. He was arrested almost thirty years ago in connection with his attempt to murder his ex-girlfriend who evaded his attempt by jumping out a window, thereby suffering grievous injuries. Wiesner has always claimed that he was not trying to shoot his ex-girlfriend but rather himself and that he fired gun shots out the window, not at her. He contends until today that his ex-girlfriend insisted on staying with him in the apartment and that he was trying to hurt himself, not her. He also claimed that he took an entire bottle of diet drugs on that fateful day. The next year Wiesner was arrested on federal drug trafficking charges. The following year he was convicted of attempted murder, burglary and other charges and sentenced to 12 ½ to 25 years in prison. He subsequently pled guilty to the federal drug charges.
Wiesner subsequently filed a habeas corpus petition in federal court, which was granted, in which he claimed that he had been denied his constitutional rights to represent himself. As a result , he was released from prison twenty-two years ago.
Just before his retrial for the attempted murder of his ex-girlfriend, he pled guilty, without admitting to the facts in connection with the plea and received a light sentence in return.
After Wiesner’s release from prison, he earned his college degree and a law degree from C.U.N.Y. Law School. He passed the Bar in 1994. At that time, the First Department denied him admission because he did not possess “good moral character” as required by New York Judicial Law.
The First Department noted in its opinion granting Wiesner admission, that there is no clear definition of “good moral character” in the Judiciary Law. However, past crimes do not act as a permanent bar to an attorney’s admission. Also, the statute does not impose a continuing punishment on an applicant with a criminal past. The First Department took particular note of Wiesner’s perfect record as an attorney in good standing in other jurisdictions and his contributions to society. Also, the court found that enough time had passed since his previous crimes, with no new misbehavior, to warrant a change in the First Department’s position. The First Department was also impressed by the character witnesses who lined up to guarantee his good character, including the former dean of Fordham Law School.
The dissent was not impressed by Wiesner’s bona fides. Justice Saxe argued that Wiesner’s expressions of remorse were false. According to Justice Saxe, Wiener resented being asked to show his remorse, and the attorney had the attitude that he was entitled to be admitted to the First Department. Also, Wiesner continued to contradict the testimony of his ex-girlfriend and the undisputed facts of the case. One such contradiction was Wiesner’s failure to explain why his ex-girlfriend jumped out of a window if she was staying with him in the apartment voluntarily, as he claims. Justice Saxe also found most compelling the ex-girlfriend’s testimony that Wiesner forced her to ingest drugs and that he branded her skin. Justice Saxe declared that this revealed Wiesner’s true character. Justice Saxe also concluded that Wiesner was lacking in humility or the ability to acknowledge his misconduct and that he failed to prove his remorse, instead reciting it by rote. Moreover, he did not find that Wiesner was candid about his criminal past in his applications for admission. While Justice Saxe did not find that Wiesner was entirely forthright about his past, Justice Saxe did allow that Wiesner had started to redeem himself. He just had not finished yet.
The majority rejected Justice Saxe’s arguments, claiming that Justice Saxe was just attempting to retry Wiesner for his previous crimes.