Lawyer Watches His Future Nearly Go Up in Smoke

Pity the poor Zachary Sanders of Portland, Oregon. Or maybe the residents of the State of New York. Somewhere along the way, Sanders decided to be a lawyer when he grew up. For good or bad, he certainly gave himself enough opportunities to practice his skills of argument as he aged.

When he was only 14, he was picked up for violating curfew. He claimed he was stopped because his companion was black, that the stop was all about police racism. Never mind that the police were right about his curfew violation.

In high school, he helped teach Hispanic immigrants the English language, but he was dropped from the program after tutoring a female student outside of class. His explanation? “I didn’t know until later that the girl considered me her boyfriend.” How conveeeeen-ient.

In college, he was charged with carrying an open container of alcohol, leading to a fine. His explanation? It was just a “boda bag” and he didn’t think it constituted an “open container” under the statute.

After graduating from college, he lived in Queretaro, Mexico, where he was a part-time English teacher. In May of 1998, while living in Mexico, he made a trip to Cuba, returning by way of the Bahamas. Problem was, while in Cuba, Sanders bought a box of Cuban cigars, clear evidence that he was there. Bigger problem–U.S. Customs decided he was “it” for a random bag search, and found the cigars. And his biggest problem of that trip? Lying about his whereabouts until confronted with the tobacco.

And the government wasn’t through with Mr. Sanders, either. The U.S. Dept. of Treasury sent Sanders a letter requesting additional information about this trip. Ignoring the letter, Treasury fined Sanders $10,000, a fine he didn’t bother making any attempt to pay.

Fulfilling his life long dream, in August of 1988 Sanders began law school. But failing to learn from history, he doomed himself to repeat it. Yes, I mean to tell you that he tripped out to Cuba again in 2000, between law school year 2 and year 3. This time he toured via Canada. And again he was searched on the way back in, where a box of Cuban cigars were found. At least he was consistent, because he again denied going to Cuba until confronted with the loot. This time, he was fined $100 on the spot.

In July of 2001, he sat for–and passed–the New Jersey bar exam. While you may think he had now gotten the Cuba thing out of his system, or at least had gotten the law fined into his system, not so for the clever Mr. Sanders. No, in August of 2001, he made a third fateful trip to that fair Island paradise of Cuba. The difference was this time he didn’t contribute as much to the gross domestic product of Cuba, failing to bring any cigars back home.

Now, passing the bar exam is only one component of what is required to obtain a license to practice law. For example, candidates have to be fingerprinted and have the prints run by law enforcement. And in New Jersey, candidates also have to somehow “prove” they possess a particularly acceptable moral character.

Hence the problem for the young Mr. Sanders, who now had to explain all of the above incidences away in order to “prove” he was now worthy of a law license, or somehow convince the Committee on Character that he was now a different person, along with the requisite amount of remorse. “I messed up, I’m sorry, I won’t do it again.” How hard could that be?

Impossible, as it turns out. Rejecting the opportunity to hire counsel to represent him, and thus representing himself, here are his own words:

In my estimation, being a lawyer does not mean blindly following unjust and immoral laws…A healthy respect for the rule of law, and one’s duty to comply with it as an officer of the Court, does not prevent one from engaging in civil disobedience.

“Civil disobedience”? Yep, that was the best explanation he could come up with for those trips to Cuba. Well, that plus his “sincere desire to see a country which has chosen to organize itself around socialist principles first hand.” Proof positive all over again that he who represents himself has a fool for a client. And up in cigar smoke went his chances to obtain a license to practice law in New Jersey as they denied his application.

What was Mr. Sanders to do? Where could he go and foist his obvious talent for argument on an unsuspecting public? New York, baby, yeah! He not only passed the New York bar exam in the same year he passed the New Jersey exam, he also satisfied all other New York requirements to get his law license.

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