TUCKED AMONG the professional ads on Page 26 of The Wall Street Journal on Oct. 4, 1978, was an eyebrow-raising notice by a Navy Department attorney, Frederick Crowley, who had resigned his job after four years.
The ad announced in large print Crowley's former title of senior trial attorney in the Navy's office of general counsel and detailed his work in connection with $1 billion in claims against the government on which he said he performed "in-depts factual and legal analysis."
So far, so good. Biographical information is clearly acceptable in the developing area of lawyers' advertsing. But the last three lines of this ad stated in dark print:
"He seeks association with law firms and representation of contractors and others with claims against any agencies of the U.S. government."
Put another way, he was using his government experience to atract clients who might want to sue the government in the future.
At the time, U.S. Sen. William Proxmire (D-Wis.) called Crowley's ad "the most blatant example of the revolving door used by the legal profession that I have ever seen . . ."
Proxmire said he would "leave it to the legal profession to determine whether such conduct is ethical.
Another reader of the ad decided to formally ask the D.C. bar about the matter, and forwarded it to the bar's legal ethics committee. That panel completed its formal opinion on the matter last week.
The committee's bottom line: A close call, but not unethical, mainly because no bar disciplinary rule covers precisely that sort of conduct. As is its usual practice, the committee mentioned no names and discussed the issue in dry legal terms. The Post learned Crowley's name from anothe source.
After some strong debate among its members, however, the legal ethics committee did not let the matter drop there. It went out of its way to make clear that it did not "endorse or encourage such conduct" and is considering a rule to apply in such situations in the future.
"The committee is of the view that the advertisement in question will not (1) promote confidence in the integrity and efficiency of the legal profession, or (2) reflect credit on the profession, or (3) inspire confidence in the profession on behalf of clients and the public," the panel said.
The panel, in its unsigned opinion, said the public and prospective clients "are not likely to have a favorable impression of an attorney, who, having spent a number of years in the full-time employment of a particular client in this case the United States government, leaves that employment and publicly announces his or her special qualifications to initiate claims or litigation against such former client."
Crowley said yesterday he viewed the advertisement as an announcement instead of a solicitation, sort of a public version of the fancy engraved invitations that attorneys send out to friends when they move to a new job or with a new firm.
And, he added in a comment that won't make The Wall Street Journal's advertising staff very happy, "I didn't get any business at all from it -- not one nickel's worth."
Of course, the ethics committee itself realized in its opinion it left a couple of loopholes concerning "envolving-door" ads, even considering its plan to examine rules governing such conduct in the future.
For example, there is nothing to stop an attorney from making the same sort statements in face-to-face meetings with prospective clients. And, as of now, the panel's ruling clearly leaves former government officials ethically free to advertise as Crowley did and escape disciplinary action.
Those are the kind of loopholes that trucks are driven through in this town every day -- with the help of lawyers, of course.
Attorneys who are asked to serve on another D.C. Bar panel, the committee on unauthorized practice of law, can sleep more soundly as a result of a federal appellate court opinion that said the committee members are absolutely immune from lawsuits.
The U.S. Court of Appeals ruling (Simons v. Bellinger) came in a suit brought by two attorneys who found themselves the subject of an inquiry by the committee. They charged that the committee was harassing them and violating their constitutional rights.
U.S. District Judge Charles R. Richey, sitting as an appellate judge in this case, turned the tables on the plaintiffs. He said the committee members themselves are more likely to be probable targets for harassment -- from people like the attorneys who filled this suit.
"Both legitimate and unauthorized practitioners alike may be expected to use their familiarity with the legal process to explore the possibility of vindication -- either real or imagined -- in other forums," richey wrote.
Richey said the panel's members are acting "as a surrogate for those who sit on the bench" in policing the practice of law here, and therefore they deserve the same total immunity that is given to judges instead of the qualified immunity given to prosecutors. U.S. Circuit Judge George MacKinnon wrote a separate opinion generally agreeing with Richey.
There was no unanimity on the three-judge panel. U.S. Circuit Judge Malcolm R. Wilkey said no other court had ever said that members of a bar committee had more immunity from lawesuits than prosecutors and police officers "attempting to protect society from general crime."
Wilkey said the public might view theruling as "another attempt by the legal profession to maintain and tighten its monopoly on the provision of legal services."
More than 500 attorneys -- many of them new to law practice here -- turned out at a Georgetown University Law Center session this weekend to learn the "fundamentals" of D.C. Superior Court practice, as the session billed itself.
For their $35 admission fee, they got an indispensable four-inch-thick packet of materials des cribing the ins and outs of the maze of various divisions at the large court complex and a sometimes surprisingly candid look at the problems there.
For example, D.C. Superior Court Judge William E. Stewart warned them about unspecified idiosyncracies they would find among the court's 44 judges and gave them a stern lecture on matters such as an attorney's promptnes s and demeanor. Stewart did not have a good answer, though, for the attorney who asked him how to deal with a judge who lacked those same qualities.
Neither did anyone come up with a good answer to a lack of cheap, fast, good restaurants in the courthouse area, a shortage of parking spaces, and the nonexistent research facilities for lawyers at the courthouse.
Fred Graefe has moved from Howrey and Simon to Perito, Duerk, Carlson and Pinco . . . Michael Finkelstein, former counsel with the Federal Communications Commission, has joined the Washington office of Nixon, Hargrave, Devans and Doyle. Others new members of the same firm are John K. Bouman, Robert G. Harvey, Thomas S. Richards, David M. Schraver, and Robert W. Wild . . . Dennis M. Devaney, former counsel for the Food Marketing Institute and Washington representative for the Miller Brewing Co., has joined the firm of Randall, Bangert and Thelen . . . Former assistant U.S. Attorney Robert A. Rohrbaugh of the Baltimore federal prosecutor's office and William T. Wood have formed a partnership in Rockville.