WASHINGTON — Jim Robbins’ seven years of service at the Supreme Court was not enough to keep him from the being the second lawyer this year who was mistakenly suspended from the court’s prestigious bar.
“They suspended me?” a surprised Robbins asked with a chuckle Tuesday from his home outside San Francisco.
They did, but they didn’t mean to.
The court acknowledged Monday that it had confused another James A. Robbins, a New York lawyer who tried to cover up his loss of a client’s will, with the former Supreme Court employee.
In May, the court mixed up a lawyer who was convicted of drunken driving with the incoming president of the Massachusetts state bar.
Anyone who argues in front of the Supreme Court must be a member of its bar, but few of the nearly 4,000 lawyers on average who join the bar each year ever argue a case there. Bar members get a certificate suitable for framing, a credential for their resume and the chance to join a shorter line for lawyers who want to see Supreme Court arguments.
The court has a process for verifying whether lawyers who commit crimes or are disciplined where they work also are members of the Supreme Court bar.
But the process is not error-proof, even at an institution that has the final word on matters of law in the U.S.
The Supreme Court receives discipline notices from courts around the country and compares those lists with the roster of lawyers who can practice in front of the justices. When there’s a match, the court initiates its own disbarment proceeding, which begins with a suspension and an order to explain why the lawyer should not be kicked out of the Supreme Court bar.
The court clerk’s office belatedly discovered that the New York Robbins was not a Supreme Court bar member, court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said.
The California Robbins recalled his admission to the high court bar in 1981, at the request of then Solicitor General Wade McCree Jr. He served on the business side of the court in the early 1980s, when Warren Burger was chief justice, and has never argued a high court case.
But neither has Robbins been entirely forgotten at the Supreme Court.
“He hired me,” Arberg said, after a reporter told her that the unsuspended Robbins once worked at the court.