1. James Alexander
James Alexander practiced law in America before the United States. Like most statesmen of the time, he put in time as everything from a surveyor to Major General in the Continental Army to member of the New York Colonial Assembly.
Alexander also started a newspaper opposed to New York governor William Crosby, then defended his publisher, Peter Zenger, when he was prosecuted for sedition. Zenger was acquitted in one of the first examples of jury nullification, but Alexander was disbarred for challenging the commissions of the judges presiding over the case.
I admit I am not 100% clear on why this was grounds for disbarment, but it didn’t last. It was also a time when not being on the governor’s good side seems to have been enough to cause the loss of your law license.
2. David Hall
Being a governor means having access to huge pots of money, just ripe for the pilfering. That’s what former Oklahoma governor David Hall must have thought, anyway. Just 3 days after he left office, he was charged with funneling Oklahoma retirees’ money to private investment accounts. He was disbarred after spending 19 months in prison for bribery and extortion.
3. Richard Nixon
“Tricky Dick” Nixon lost his license to practice law in New York for obstruction of justice related to the Watergate scandal. This also, not incidentally, resulted in a sweeping reformation of the ABA’s Model Rules of Professional Responsibility, which were released a decade later as the Model Rules of Professional Conduct.
4. Robert B. Anderson
Wikipedia credits Anderson with “end[ing] the last formal vestiges of racial segregation in the Navy” during his stint as Secretary of the Navy. Eisenhower, who appointed Anderson Secretary of the Treasury, apparently believed him capable of being president. He even received the Medal of Freedom and helped negotiate for the Panama Canal.
After leaving public service, though, he operated an unlicensed bank that laundered money for drug traffickers, which resulted in disbarment and a prison sentence.
5. Spiro Agnew
Even though Spiro Agnew managed to stay clear of the Watergate scandal, he managed to go down in the flames of a scandal all his own. He was charged with extortion, bribery, tax fraud, and conspiracy. He eventually pleaded no contest to bribery and tax fraud and resigned from office — the only veep to resign due to criminal charges. His plea also resulted in his disbarment in Maryland.
Agnew was called one of the worst vice presidents in U.S. history by Time magazine.
Since politics, lawyers, and scandal often go hand-in-hand, there are lots more politicians whose legal careers ended prematurely. Check out these lists for more: