Jurisdiction From Character and Fitness Committee
E. Tartter, Neal Rodar and Martha O'Connor, Panel
S. Gillies of Tarrant, Gillies & Richardson, Montpelier,
and Robert Grundstein, Pro Se, Morrisville, for
J. Donovan, Jr., Attorney General, and Benjamin Battles,
Solicitor General, Montpelier, for Respondent-Appellee.
PRESENT: Reiber, C.J., Skoglund, Robinson, Eaton and Carroll,
1. Applicant Robert Grundstein appeals the decision of the
Vermont Character and Fitness Committee declining to certify
his good moral character and fitness to be admitted to
practice law in Vermont. We conclude that applicant has
failed to satisfy his burden of demonstrating a good moral
character. Accordingly, we affirm.
2. Applicant achieved a passing score on the February 2016
Vermont bar examination. His application was forwarded to the
Character and Fitness Committee, which assigned one of its
members to investigate applicant's moral character and
fitness. On May 9, 2016, the member reported to the Committee
that he was unable to certify applicant's good moral
character and fitness. The member noted that applicant
offered confusing explanations for his disbarment in
Washington State and his conviction for alteration of a court
document. The member was also concerned that the Washington
disbarment notice stated that applicant had repeatedly
violated court orders and filed meritless pleadings. A
three-member panel of the Committee held a hearing on the
matter on October 20, 2016. Applicant attended the hearing
and was represented by counsel. In a written decision issued
on January 30, 2017, the Committee declined to certify
applicant's good moral character and fitness.
3. Applicant received a juris doctor degree from the
Cleveland Marshall College of Law in 1985. After law school,
he traveled and helped start a restaurant in New Hampshire.
He worked as a clerk in New Mexico and unsuccessfully took
the New Mexico bar examination in 1986. He then returned to
the restaurant business. In 1991, he passed the Washington
State bar examination and was admitted to the Washington bar.
He did not practice law in Washington, instead remaining in
the restaurant business. In 1994, he returned to Cleveland,
Ohio to care for his parents. He left Ohio in 2002, moving
first to New Hampshire and then settling in Vermont. He has
lived in Vermont since 2003 and has supported himself in real
estate development. He testified that he never
"really" practiced law, although when he lived in
Washington he helped a local attorney draft some documents.
4. On his Vermont bar application, applicant disclosed that
he had two criminal convictions: a 2002 conviction for
improper storage of a firearm and a 2008 conviction for
alteration of a court document. Both convictions were in
5. According to applicant, the 2002 case began when his car
was towed for a parking violation. The police went through
the car and found his .22 pistol in the glove compartment. He
was charged and found guilty of improper storage of a firearm
and sentenced to two years' probation with a condition
that he not possess any firearms.
6. Applicant testified that despite this condition he
returned to Vermont and attempted to purchase a new firearm.
He claimed that the probation was "unsupervised"
and that the Ohio court administrator told him that he could
ignore the probation conditions. Applicant's request to
purchase a gun was initially denied because the Federal
Bureau of Investigation (FBI) could not determine whether the
Ohio gun conviction was a felony or a misdemeanor. When
applicant requested a copy of the police report from the Ohio
court, he noticed that the report listed the statute under
which he was convicted, but did not include the specific
subsection. He therefore wrote in the subsection on the
police report using different-colored ink and sent it to the
FBI, along with a letter stating that the Ohio court
"forgot" the subsection, but "it doesn't
matter because everything under [that statute] is a
misdemeanor." The FBI permitted him to purchase a gun.
7. Applicant then received a letter from the Ohio court
stating that he had violated his probation by obtaining a gun
and altering a court document. He responded that the Ohio
court had no jurisdiction in Vermont, and that he had not
altered a court document.
8. The docket entries for the case indicate that the Ohio
court issued a warrant for applicant's arrest in July
2003 after applicant failed to appear at a probation
violation hearing. In October 2004, applicant "entered
admission of probation violation charge of altering a court
document and submitting the altered court document to the
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to obtain a firearm in
violation of a condition of probation." The docket
entries also state that applicant was found guilty of
contempt of court in violation of Ohio Revised Code 2705.05.
His probation was extended until 2007 and he was again
prohibited from owning or possessing firearms. The docket
entries state that applicant had "repeatedly, despite
admonition by court, sent written communication directly to
the undersigned judge." The court ordered that all
communications be made through applicant's attorney with
service upon the prosecutor. Applicant subsequently filed
numerous motions challenging the court's rulings, which
were denied. His probation eventually expired in April 2007.
9. In 2008, applicant was convicted on a new charge of
altering a court document. Applicant reported on his bar
application that he pleaded guilty in October 2008, that the
case was filed in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas,
and the case number was CR-07-500545-A. The Committee
requested information relating to that case number. It
received a case summary indicating that applicant was charged
in 2007 with tampering with records, but the jury returned a
"no bill, " meaning that they refused to indict
applicant on this charge. Under a section labeled "Other
Cases, " the summary lists another case number,
CR-07-501796-A. This suggests that applicant actually entered
his guilty plea in the latter case. The precise charge in
that case is unclear from the record.
10. Applicant testified before the Committee that he did not
know what document he was accused of altering in the 2008
case. He claimed that the prosecutor was known for bringing
cases with no evidence, and was later asked to resign after
an FBI raid. He pleaded guilty, but he could not remember the
charge. He claimed that he never found out what the
allegation against him was, but that he guessed it was
related to his attempt to obtain a new gun after being
convicted of improper storage of a firearm in Ohio. Applicant
claimed that the docket entries in the case were falsified by
the docket clerk, who later went to jail. He did not provide
these docket entries to the Committee.
11. Applicant contended that he was the target of retaliation
by an Ohio judge who ruled against him in an unrelated civil
case in April 2007. Applicant sued his condominium
association on behalf of himself and other condominium
owners, alleging that the association overcharged the owners
for a roof. According to him, the judge was unprepared,
didn't know the law, and did a "terrible job."
After the court entered judgment in favor of the association,
applicant stood on the courthouse steps and passed out an
"editorial" criticizing the judge. The editorial
stated that applicant, while in the courtroom, "felt as
if I was standing before an emotionally ill person pursuing
his mania at the expense of professional standards."
Applicant did not appeal the decision, however, because he
"didn't think it would do any good." According
to applicant, a few months after he distributed his
editorial, he was charged with altering a court document.
12. Meanwhile, in 2006 applicant filed suit in Washington
state court against his brother, whom he accused of stealing
over $100, 000 from their mother's accounts. During the
course of that litigation, he noticed that his brother's
attorney was being paid from their mother's trust, which
he felt was improper. He filed a complaint against the
attorney with the Washington State Bar Association (WSBA).
The WSBA refused to do anything, so he resubmitted his
complaint. "[T]he next thing you know, " in
September 2010 there was a formal complaint against him filed
with the WSBA.
13. According to applicant, the complaint alleged that he had
altered a court document and made frivolous filings. He
called the WSBA and said "I'm a wonderful person. I
exposed corruption in Ohio. You guys should give me a medal.
I did what no one else would do." He filed suit in
federal court seeking to enjoin the WSBA hearing. The federal
court, in a "terrible ruling, " abstained.
Applicant testified that he was unable to find an attorney to
represent him before the WSBA, and that a local attorney told
him "it doesn't matter how bad their case is and how
good yours is, you're going to get hammered."
14. Applicant represented himself at the WSBA disciplinary
hearing, which took place in September 2011. He testified
that he provided over forty exculpatory exhibits to the WSBA
at the disciplinary hearing. When he received the report
summarizing the hearing, however, none of his exhibits had
been admitted into the record. He claimed that "they
stole all my evidence." He also claimed that the WSBA
improperly modified the disciplinary complaint at the hearing
to request disbarment instead of a lesser form of discipline.
15. In June 2012, applicant was disbarred. The WSBA
Discipline Notice stated that applicant:
Falsified a document in connection with obtaining a gun
permit and falsified records of criminal convictions;
Filed frivolous lawsuits and pleadings related to or stemming
from his criminal convictions in Ohio;
Filed frivolous lawsuits and pleadings related to or stemming
from his extradition from Vermont to Ohio in state and/or
Filed motions, claims, appeals, and/or writs without
foundation in connection with one ...