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Harary v. Blumenthal

decided: May 19, 1977.


Appeal from summary judgment of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, Thomas P. Griesa, Judge, upholding administrative disbarment of certified public accountant. Affirmed.

Oakes, Circuit Judge, and Charles E. Wyzanski Jr.*fn** and James S. Holden,**fn** District Judges.

Author: Oakes

OAKES, Circuit Judge:

Appellant, a certified public accountant, seeks by this appeal to avoid "disbarment" from practice before the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). He was disbarred in an administrative disciplinary proceeding before the Secretary of the Treasury, pursuant to 31 U.S.C. § 1026 and regulations thereunder, and sought review of the administrative decision in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, Thomas P. Griesa, Judge. Assuming jurisdiction,*fn1 the district court granted summary judgment for the Secretary. We affirm.


Appellant's disbarment arose out of a prior criminal proceeding in which he was charged with bribing and conspiring to bribe a special agent of the IRS in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 201(b), 371, and with paying the agent a gratuity in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 201(f). He admitted that he had paid the agent the sum of $1,250 on behalf of his client, that he had told the client that the agent wanted $2,000 and that he (appellant) had kept the $750 difference.

Appellant was tried before a jury and was acquitted of the conspiracy and bribery charges, but was convicted of the gratuity charge. On appeal this court reversed the conviction on the gratuity charge and ordered that count of the indictment dismissed. United States v. Harary, 457 F.2d 471 (2d Cir. 1972). The court held that the district court had erred in submitting the lesser included gratuity offense to the jury, because there was no disputed factual element that would have allowed the jury rationally to conclude that appellant was guilty of the lesser offense but not of the greater offense of bribery. Id. at 477-78.

Subsequently, Treasury Department officials filed an administrative complaint, pursuant to 31 C.F.R. § 10.54, seeking appellant's disbarment from practice before the IRS. The grounds alleged included appellant's attempt to influence an agent in the conduct of an audit of appellant's client and appellant's overstating to his client the amount of the payment that the agent had agreed to accept. Following a hearing, at which the parties jointly offered in evidence the transcript from appellant's criminal trial, an administrative law judge (ALJ) found that appellant had committed the acts charged and ordered appellant disbarred. Appellant's appeal to the Secretary of the Treasury resulted in an opinion by the Department's General Counsel, acting on behalf of the Secretary, affirming the ALJ's decision in all respects. Appellant then sought relief in the district court and from that court's order took the instant appeal.


In support of appellant's contention that the disbarment decision should be overturned, the principal argument is that collateral estoppel prevents his being disbarred for bribery and conspiracy to bribe, since he was acquitted of those charges at his prior criminal trial. This acquittal, appellant reasons, "definitively" establishes that he was entrapped by the IRS into paying the bribe, because at his trial appellant admitted the payment and relied wholly on an entrapment defense. Appellant's legal premise, however, is clearly wrong. The standard of proof in a criminal trial is guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 364, 25 L. Ed. 2d 368, 90 S. Ct. 1068 (1970). An acquittal in such a trial, under such a standard, cannot control a subsequent disbarment proceeding, in which a lower standard of proof is required, see In re Echeles, 430 F.2d 347, 352-53 (7th Cir. 1970); In re Doe, 95 F.2d 386, 387 (2d Cir. 1938) (per curiam). See generally One Lot Emerald Cut Stones and One Ring v. United States, 409 U.S. 232, 235, 34 L. Ed. 2d 438, 93 S. Ct. 489 (1972) (per curiam); United States v. National Association of Real Estate Boards, 339 U.S. 485, 492-94, 94 L. Ed. 1007, 70 S. Ct. 711 (1950); Helvering v. Mitchell, 303 U.S. 391, 397-98, 82 L. Ed. 917, 58 S. Ct. 630 (1938); Neaderland v. Commissioner, 424 F.2d 639, 642-43 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 400 U.S. 827, 27 L. Ed. 2d 56, 91 S. Ct. 53 (1970). Moreover, the issue in a disbarment proceeding is essentially fitness to practice, rather than the criminality of the acts involved. See Bar Association v. Anonymous Attorneys, 41 N.Y.2d 506, 362 N.E.2d 592, 393 N.Y.S.2d 961, 45 U.S.L.W. 2478 (1977) (per curiam).

Even were appellant's legal premise correct, however, his factual premise that the jury's verdict constituted a finding of entrapment is clearly incorrect in the circumstances of this case. As noted above, the jury at appellant's trial, while acquitting him of the bribery charges, found him guilty of giving the IRS agent a gratuity. This court later stated that the jury's verdict amounted to "a compromise." United States v. Harary, supra, 457 F.2d at 479. The jury, in the court's view, could not rationally have concluded that appellant had been entrapped by the IRS into giving a bribe but not entrapped into giving a gratuity. Id. at 478. From such a compromise verdict it cannot be said that the question of entrapment was "necessarily determined" against the Government, as is required to support a later holding of collateral estoppel, see United States v. Kramer, 289 F.2d 909, 916 (2d Cir. 1961); 2 C. Wright, Federal Practice and Procedure § 468, at 263 (1969), nor can it be said that a finding of entrapment was the only one consistent with the evidence and the verdict, compare Sealfon v. United States, 332 U.S. 575, 579-80, 92 L. Ed. 180, 68 S. Ct. 237 (1948); United States v. Kramer, supra, 289 F.2d at 914-15. Under these circumstances, when it is uncertain exactly what the jury decided on a particular issue in a prior criminal action, the issue may be relitigated in a later, noncriminal action. See United States v. Davis, 460 F.2d 792, 799 (4th Cir. 1972).*fn2


As a separate ground for disbarring appellant, a ground unrelated to his prior criminal trial, the Secretary held that appellant had willfully deceived his client.*fn3 As stated above, appellant told his client that the IRS agent had to be paid $2,000, but appellant in fact paid the agent $1,250, pocketing the $750 difference for himself. The Secretary held that this conduct violated 31 C.F.R. § 10.22(c), which requires that each attorney, certified public accountant or enrolled agent "exercise due diligence . . . in determining the correctness of oral or written representations made by him to clients with reference to any matter administered by the Internal Revenue Service." Appellant argues that this regulation has not been violated or, in the alternative, that the regulation is unconstitutionally vague.

With regard to the first point, appellant's position is that 31 C.F.R. § 10.22(c) was not meant to apply to conduct of the type here involved. A requirement that practitioners before the IRS make correct representations to clients with regard to illegal courses of conduct, appellant reasons, would encourage illegality by practitioners in situations in which it could otherwise be avoided. He cites the hypothetical example of an IRS agent soliciting a bribe from an accountant and argues that, under the Secretary's interpretation of the regulation, the accountant could be disbarred for failing truthfully to communicate the criminal overture to his client. We need not determine the correctness of appellant's resolution of the hypothetical, for, even if he were correct that the overture had to be reported to the client, the accountant would also have an obligation to advise his ...

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