RENO — Former Nevada political powerbroker Harvey Whittemore should be allowed to keep his law license until the appeal of his three felony convictions for violating campaign finance laws is decided, a Nevada State Bar disciplinary panel recommended.
The committee, in a unanimous decision released late Friday, said the temporary suspension of his law license should be lifted and his case should be placed on hold until his appeal is resolved.
“Discipline of a person who is later determined to be innocent is an injustice,” the panel concluded.
The Nevada Supreme Court has 30 days to decide whether to accept the recommendation, continue his license suspension or disbar him.
Whittemore was convicted last year and sentenced to two years in prison for using family and friends as “straw donors” to pump more than $130,000 into the campaign of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in 2007. Reid, a Nevada Democrat, was never accused of wrongdoing.
U.S. District Judge Larry Hicks ruled in December that the former wealthy developer and lobbyist doesn’t have to surrender to a federal prison until after his appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is decided.
The panel, in its ruling, said it “is mindful that it is very unusual for a federal district judge to stay the imposition of a prison sentence.”
“Further, Judge Hicks stated in his order that Mr. Whittemore’s appeal has raised ‘substantial question(s) of law’ which could result in the reversal of the convictions.”
The panel said if his convictions are upheld by the appeals court, then Whittemore’s “conduct may warrant appropriate discipline.”
Whittemore’s lawyers, Bill Bradley and John Echeverria, praised the panel’s decision.
“The panel clearly paid close attention to federal Judge Hick’s well-reasoned decision allowing Mr. Whittemore to exercise his appeal rights before his sentence his imposed,” Bradley told the Reno Gazette-Journal. “We appreciate the courage of the panel in reaching this decision.”
State Bar counsel David Clark did not immediately respond to a request for comment.