RESPONDENT: Committee on Character and Fitness, Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of New York, First Judicial Department
LOCATION: Formerly S. H. Kress and Co.
DOCKET NO.: 140
DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1962-1965)
CITATION: 373 US 96 (1963)
ARGUED: Feb 21, 1963
DECIDED: May 13, 1963
Facts of the case
Media for Willner v. Committee on Character and Fitness, Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of New York, First Judicial Department
Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 21, 1963 in Willner v. Committee on Character and Fitness, Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of New York, First Judicial Department
Number 140, David Wilner, Petitioner against Committee on Character.
Yes I want to say at the very outset that I have been practicing law more than 60 years, and most of it in trial and appeal work in courts.
Well that's the reason my voice may not have the volume and I'm going to ask Your Honors to bear with me.
Thank you, Your Honor.
This is an appeal from a unanimous decision of the Court of Appeals of the State of New York, which denied the petitioner, Willner admission to the Bar.
Willner commenced or rather applied for admission some 25 years ago.
It was denied and he has been fighting for it ever since.
Willner was the son of immigrant parents who were impoverished, and unlike we often read about young men who work their way through college, he not only had work to his way through college, and four years of law school, but he actually had to work his way through elementary school. the reason of the fact that those people were so poor.
Now ordinarily the average young man who applies for admission to the Bar is about the age of 25, 26, 27, when he applied he was a mature man, 36 years of age.
He had graduated from the School of Commerce, New York University with a degree of Bachelor of Commercial Science.
He then studied law for four years and graduated first as a Bachelor of Laws and then as a Master of Laws, and that exempted him from having to serve a clerkship in a lawyer's office, and that's very important in this connection.
He was married, had two children, a boy was suffering from asthma, was living in New York and then decided it would be better if he would move the family to the country, or at least -- and he moved it to Peekskill up in Westchester County.
It's about 30 miles north of the City Line.
And he had to make a living and what he knew was accounting, he practically finished his accounting course.
So he engaged in business of accounting, and that of course brought him into contact with people who had to do business with, and anyone who participates in the activities of the marketplace is bound to get an occasional cuff, bound to get into disputes like anybody else who engages in business, and he did.
He got into a dispute with a lawyer by the name of James Dempsey and I am not going into details regarding it, but he made a bitter enemy of Dempsey.
In the meanwhile, he had taken the Bar examination, had passed successfully and was ready to be admitted to the Bar.
Now admission into the Bar in New York is delegated to the Appellate Division.
The Court of Appeals makes the rules and regulations and delegates the Appellate Division, the business of admitting attorneys to the Bar.
Naturally the number of lawyers who apply for admission is very large in New York, and so the job of examining the character and fitness of the applicant for admission to the Bar is delegated to a committee of -- termed the Committee on Character and Fitness.
It consists of ten members and they are all supposed to be eminent lawyers.
Willner having received his certificate from the Board of the Law Examiners then applied to the -- or Bar rather appeared before the Character Committee.
[Inaudible] character, who appoints --
Oh, the Character Committee is appointed by the Presiding Justice of the Appellate Division and in the meanwhile, while waiting to receive his certificate as a Certified Public Accountant, he thought it advisable to open an office in Manhattan, and he sublet from the firm Weidner and Westall [Inaudible] cost of $7.50 a month.
That office was apparently managed by Weider, and after he got in there he found a motley crowd of subtenants, one was a bookmaker and by that I don't mean one who publishes or writes books, one who takes bets on races, another was a handicapper and as soon as Willner saw what he was in for, he walked out, and meanwhile he gotten into row with Weidner and Weidner's partner also realizing the sort of office was in, dissolved his partnership and walked out.
When he came before the Character Committee, oh, yes, and Weidner also filed a complaint --