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Public hearing to decide Bereano's legal future


Acting with unusual speed, the Maryland Court of Appeals has scheduled a public hearing to decide whether convicted Annapolis lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano should keep his law license.

The June 15 hearing before the full, seven-judge panel will allow 15 minutes each to Mr. Bereano and to the Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland. The commission, in a routine step, asked the court to suspend Mr. Bereano's law license after he was sentenced in April on seven counts of federal mail fraud.

The court will hear only arguments from each side, no testimony.

"I'll be there," Mr. Bereano said after learning of the hearing. "I obey the court."

It was only on Friday that Maryland's once most powerful lobbyist filed a voluminous answer to the grievance commission's request for his license. He did not ask for a hearing on the matter, and the court could have decided it without one.

Although the judges typically take several weeks to set a hearing, they took immediate action in this case, apparently to accommodate their summer schedule. The court hears no cases next month and in August. Yesterday was its last day of cases until September.

"The court is recessing, that's the only reason," said Judge John C. Eldridge, explaining the rapid action.

Mr. Bereano was convicted in November of defrauding clients of more than $16,000 to make illegal campaign contributions that were channeled through employees of his law firm, family members and the Bereano political action committee.

In papers he filed with the Court of Appeals last week, Mr. Bereano argued that he should be allowed to continue practicing law while he appeals his conviction. His sentence of five years' probation, six months in a halfway house and a $20,000 fine has been delayed pending his appeals, he noted.

He also argued, as the federal judge who tried the case did, that his crime was victimless. Mr. Bereano submitted several letters from legal clients who want him to continue representing them.

The Court of Appeals in nearly all cases revokes the law license of an attorney convicted of a felony. Recent exceptions have been made when the judges felt the crime caused little public harm, according to the grievance commission.

Melvin Hirshman, bar counsel for the grievance commission, said the burden will be on Mr. Bereano to show why he should be allowed to keep his license. "Our arguments in these cases generally are based on the fact that there's a criminal conviction and we're mandated to seek a suspension," he said yesterday.

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