Pilati seeks return to law
A disbarred former Franklin County district attorney is poised to make his return to the law – provided his petition for reinstatement is granted by the Alabama State Bar.
John Pilati was disbarred Jan. 8, 2013, by the state bar’s disciplinary board, a decision he consented to after being found guilty of five counts of “deprivation of civil rights while acting under the color of law,” as explained by a public notice of the disbarment.
According to a public notice published in the Franklin County Times on March 16, Pilati has filed a petition for reinstatement as an attorney. A hearing is set for May 19.
The disbarment came more than five years after he was convicted in November 2007. The conviction of “deprivation of civil rights while acting under the color of law,” stemmed from accusations of fondling of five men between the ages of 17-20 during drug searches and tests at the Franklin County Jail, Russellville Police Department, his office and home while working as district attorney between 2001-2004.
Pilati was sentenced to 42 months in prison and a $12,500 fine in March 2008 and – upon his release from prison in March 2011 – was required to register as a sex offender, a requirement upheld through the appeals process.
Pilati served 36 months in the Federal Correctional Institution in Seagoville, Texas, and was released March 24, 2011.
His disbarment was made retroactive to March 7, 2008, according to the Office of General Counsel of the Alabama State Bar. The disbarment followed a three-year suspension, penalty for an earlier conviction in which Pilati pled guilty to one count of making a false statement to the FBI. According to the disciplinary board of the Alabama State Bar, the suspension has remained in effect since June 2004 because, while Pilati was eligible to petition for reinstatement in June 2007, no such petition was filed between June of 2007 and December 2012, when the disbarment was put in place. Pilati has been eligible to petition for reinstatement since March 2013.
Pilati, who was Franklin County District Attorney from 1998-2004, maintained his innocence during the trial for deprivation of civil rights and contended the accusations were retaliation for having vigorously enforced the law.
Pilati’s name was recently removed from the sex offender registry. According to the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, Pilati brought documentation in early 2016 notifying them that he had been pardoned through the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles. The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency sent a letter, dated Jan. 5, 2016, confirming this information, stating, “The Agency has determined that the (Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act) no longer applies to John Pilati. Mr. Pilati was convicted in federal court for “Deprived Civil Rights” and given sex offender conditions. Mr. Pilati was given a pardon with restoration of rights on December 8, 2015. He received the restoration of all his civil and political rights except the relief from the habitual offender act as well as relief from firearms disability. His relief from the effects of conviction for sex offense was granted.”
FCSO then removed Pilati from the sex offender registry.
The Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles confirmed that Pilati was granted a partial pardon effective Dec. 8, 2015.
Pilati said his efforts to return to law have been “an ongoing process with no specific timeline.”
“I have been pursuing my legal reinstatement for some time,” Pilati said. “I appreciate the chance to work and serve my community through our newspaper and radio stations, and similarly, I look forward to the opportunity to serve the community through my legal practice if the State Bar Association sees fit to allow me that privilege.”
The Alabama State Bar provides this avenue for disbarred members to be reinstated if the disbarred member can prove he or she is fit to resume the practice of law. General Counsel of the Alabama State Bar Tony McLain said this burden of proof will be the key focus of the May 19 character hearing, during which the petitioner – in this case, Pilati – must demonstrate to a committee that issues leading to disbarment have been rectified.
“Generally they bring character witnesses – whoever they think can carry the day for them on the character side of things,” said McLain, mentioning family, friends, clients and church connections all as potential character witnesses a petitioner might choose to speak for him.
Petitions for reinstatement are not uncommon in Alabama. Results are mixed, with records showing that of 11 petitions in 2015, four were reinstated, three were denied and four are pending. From 2014, of 12 petitions, seven were reinstated, one was denied and four are pending.
Further, the Office of General Counsel of the Alabama State Bar is seeking any information relevant to the qualifications of Pilati for reinstatement – from anyone who chooses to share their input. Comments should be in writing and can be mailed to 415 Dexter Ave., Montgomery, AL 36101.