Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - 48

LAST WORD

Editors' Note: To honor the memory of Jacob
Stein, Washington Lawyer is reprinting some
of Stein's "Legal Spectator" columns, which
appeared on this page for nearly 25 years.

LEGAL SPECTATOR

By Jake Stein

THE CASE OF THE
WOULD-BE LAWYER
I

often think how easy it would be to enter the legal profession through a back
door by just showing up in court with a client. Practicing law does not require
the special talents that other professions do. One cannot very well be a musical
impostor or a fake structural engineer. But someone who wants to be a lawyer
can make a reasonable showing in court by using his wits and the legal platitudes
picked up from a Grisham or Turow movie.
I assume that at any given time a number of would-be lawyers are appearing in
court as duly licensed advocates. In times past I met two such people, one who
got caught and the other who did not. The one who got caught had an appropriately formidable name for a legal impostor: Daniel Jackson Oliver Wendel Holmes
Morgan. He was an ex-convict practicing in the District of Columbia in the 1960s
under the name L. A. Harris. The facts appear in summary in Morgan v. United
States, 114 U.S. App. D.C. 13, 309 F.2d 234 (1962), affirming Morgan's conviction on
13 counts of forgery, perjury, and fraud. The opinion says that for some 14 months,
Morgan falsely held himself out to be attorney Lawrence Archie Harris, a bona fide
member of the District of Columbia Bar. The real Harris resided in California.
Morgan, as Harris, made numerous appearances in the local courts representing
defendants in criminal cases.
Among the issues submitted on appeal by Morgan/Harris after his conviction was
his contention that although he was mentally competent to stand trial, he was
legally incompetent to act as his own chief counsel. Although the court rejected
the argument, it shows that Morgan/Harris still had the touch.
I met Harris in the days when he was trying serious criminal cases. He was gaunt,
dressed in black, with a strikingly erect posture. His abrupt, exaggerated movements attracted attention. He had the intensity of a lawyer inflamed with warm
zeal for his clients' needs and with a zest for the law well beyond that of the legitimate members of the profession.
I had a number of conversations with Harris. We spoke as lawyers do in the corridors of the courthouse about such things as the wisdom of putting the defendant on the stand in a criminal case and the unpredictability of clients who do
take the stand.
In time I heard rumors about Harris. The gossip was that he had never attended
law school and that he had done jail time. I heard that a prominent member of
the criminal defense bar knew the real L. A. Harris and knew of Morgan's using
Harris's identity. Then I heard that a prominent member of the bar had his Cadillac
parked on 5th Street across the street from the courthouse and that Harris
collided with the Cadillac, causing property damage. Harris carried no insurance.
He defiantly refused to pay for the repairs. The prominent lawyer threatened to
expose Morgan/Harris. He still refused to pay the property damage. A mistake.

48 WASHINGTON LAWYER

*

SEPTEMBER 2019

*

The story goes that the prominent lawyer dropped a hint to certain people in
authority. The indictment, prosecution, and conviction followed.
How did Morgan/Harris define himself to himself? Was he saying that he had a
gift for trying cases that he must test in court? Was he saying that he, without a
formal education, was the match for those with years of academic training? Was
he retaliating against the system? When he made an objection that was sustained by the court, when he obtained an acquittal (as he sometimes did), was his
sense of accomplishment augmented by the thrill of the danger of getting
caught?
There are surprisingly few decisions dealing directly with the question of whether
a conviction must be upset when the defendant was unknowingly represented
by a person disqualified from the practice of law. Our Court of Appeals decided in
Harrison v. United States, 359 F.2d 214 (D.C. Cir. 1965), that the trial in which Harris
represented a client in a first-degree murder case must be upset. New counsel for
the defendant refused to move the District Court for a new trial. Counsel's theory
was that by moving for a new trial, counsel would be waiving the defense of
double jeopardy. When counsel failed to act, the trial court vacated the judgment
of conviction and overruled the double jeopardy defense. The case was retried
and the defendant convicted for a second time, despite the presence of competent counsel.
The person who practiced without a license and who never got caught appeared
around here in the 1950s. He carried on in the courtroom as an evangelical
minister, making frequent references to the Bible. It had jury appeal. He obtained
some big verdicts. His style compared favorably with Burt Lancaster playing
Elmer Gantry.
The details of how he took his place in the profession by adverse possession
became known to me by a series of coincidences. First, I met someone who
knew him when he was a clergyman in the Midwest. Years later I met a person
who shared an office with him. From that person I learned that the impostor's
wife had located the would-be lawyer. She threatened a suit for divorce in which
she would spill the beans. Thereafter he disappeared.
The mystery that attaches to both these would-be lawyers is, how did clients find
them? Why didn't the clients find their way to lawyers who were not only competent but also licensed to practice? I think we all know by this time that clients are
not the best judges of legal talent. And in some respects the impostor has an
advantage over a licensed lawyer. The impostor can tell the client just what the
client wants to hear. A licensed lawyer sometimes has trouble doing that.
This column originally appeared in the July/August 2000 issue of Washington Lawyer.


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Washington Lawyer - September 2019

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Washington Lawyer - September 2019

Digital Extras
Your Voice
From Our President
Practice Management
Calendar of Events
Tomorrow’s Lawyers: Jd + Practice Ready
The Justice Gap & The Rise Of Nonlawyer Legal Providers
D.C. Bar Cle: Keeping Up With The Law
Aba Delegate’s Corner
Member Spotlight
Global & Domestic Outlook
Worth Reading
Media Bytes
Attorney Briefs
Ask The Ethics Experts
Disciplinary Summaries
2019 Celebration Of Leadership & Presidents Reception
Community & Connections
Last Word
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - Cover1
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - Cover2
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - 1
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - 2
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - 3
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - Digital Extras
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - Your Voice
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - From Our President
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - 7
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - Practice Management
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - 9
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - Calendar of Events
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - 11
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - Tomorrow’s Lawyers: Jd + Practice Ready
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - 13
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - 14
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - 15
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - 16
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - 17
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - The Justice Gap & The Rise Of Nonlawyer Legal Providers
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - 19
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - 20
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - 21
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - 22
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - 23
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - 24
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - D.C. Bar Cle: Keeping Up With The Law
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - 26
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - 27
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - Aba Delegate’s Corner
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - 29
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - Member Spotlight
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - 31
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - 32
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - 33
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - Global & Domestic Outlook
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - 35
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - Worth Reading
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - 37
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - Media Bytes
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - 39
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - Attorney Briefs
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - Ask The Ethics Experts
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - Disciplinary Summaries
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - 43
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - 2019 Celebration Of Leadership & Presidents Reception
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - 45
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - Community & Connections
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - 47
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - Last Word
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - Cover3
Washington Lawyer - September 2019 - Cover4
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