In 1969 an attorney named Philip Peltz stood before a federal court judge in New York City and was convicted on four felony charges involving a stock fraud.
Last week the same Philip Peltz appeared in another New York City courtroom - this time as an attorney who said he had been hired to represent David Berkowitz, the 24-year-old postal employee accused of being the mass killer nicknamed "Son of Sam."
Even though Peltz served three months in the federal penitertiary on the stock fraud convictions, he still is licensed to practice law in the state of New York.
"I don't know why they have permitted a convicted felon to continue to practice," said William E. Spann Jr., president of the American Bar Association.
Robert B. Fiske Jr., U.S. attorney for Manhattan whose office prosecuted Peltz in the stock fraud case, urged an immediate investigation by the local bar associations "to find out why a man convicted of fraud in the federal courts is still allowed to practice law."
He said the U.S. attorney's office notified the Bar Association of the City of New York of Pletz' conviction in 1972.
Bar association officials in New York refused to comment today on Peltz. They said they are forbidden by state law to discuss any disciplinary activities against a lawyer until it is made public by a court.
The Peltz case is the most graphic example to date of what many critics feel is the inability of the organized bar to discipline attorneys convicted of serious crimes as well as unethical and incompetent attorneys.
According to sources in Brooklyn, where Peltz practices law at 32 Court St. disciplinary action against him for his stock fraud conviction is pending before the state appellate department that has jurisdiction over disciplining lawyers who practice in Brooklyn.
Felony convictions in state courts bring an automatic disbarment, representatives of both the Bar Association of The City of New York and the Joint Bar Association of the City of New York and the Joint Bar Association that covers Brooklyn said in separate telephone interviews.
But convictions in federal court may require full hearings - first before two levels of bar association committees and then before the court. This is especially true where the federal and state crime may not be comparable.
In the Peltz case, sources said, he is arguing that the felonies he was convicted of in federal court would have been misdemanors - lesser crimes - if they had been brought in the state court.
"He got three years on a bum rap," said one friend of Peltz would not consent to an interview.
It is unclear how Peltz got into the Berkowitz case. he said a relative of Berkowitz - whom he has refused to name - asked him to represent the murder suspect.
Late yesterday Peltz petitioned the state Supreme Court to remove him from the "Son of Sam" case for the good of Berkowitz, whom he still called his client, and to preserve the reputation of the profession.
"I have been unjustifiable pilloried in the press," he said in an affidavit that will come before the court this morning.
"If I am guilty of anything," he continued, "it is my failure to foresee that anyone who becomes involved with this case would be the subject of media notoriety."
He said he turned over tapes of his conversation with Berkowitz (tapes two newspapers say were offered to them for sale, an offer, which, if it was made, Peltz says he had nothing to do with) "to a respected attorney in this community who is holding them in escrow awaiting further determination of the court or other interested parties."
Bum rap or not. Peltz was tried and convicted of a crime listed as a felony in the federal code. According to Minneapolis attorney John C. McNulty, head of the ABA's Standing Committee on Professional discipline, he should have been immediately suspended from the practice of law.
"Every effort should have been made to see that such a person is properly disciplined," McNulty said.
But not everyone believes that the courts and organized bar are able to properly discipline lawyers on their own.
"Self regulation has collapsed," wrote attorneys Martin Garbus and Joel Seligman in the Ralph Nader-sponsored book, "Verdict on Lawyers."
"If the purpose of court and state bar association discriplinary proceedings is to assure the public high standards of diligence and properies, self regulation is a nearly complete failure - an embarrassment for a profession which brags that the integrity of its practitioners is the very breath of justice," Garbus and Seligman continued.
In 1975, for example, American Bar Association statistics show that 693 of the nation's 404,772 lawyers were disciplined - less than 1 per cent.
These disciplinary measures arose from more than 33,000 public complaints to bar groups and the courts - a record that the BA said is tremendous improvement compared with 1970 when a special BA committee called the problem of disciplining lawyers "a scandalous situation."
Yet a recent poll of law students and young lawyers taken by Juris Doctor, a magazine for lawyers, found "our readers . . . see incompetence and dishonesty pervading their profession."
More than one-fourth of those questioned believe that 20 per cent of all lawyers are incompetent. Moreover, they see the problem getting worse; last year the problem of lawyer incompetence ranked fifth, while in this year's poll it had jumped to second place.
This concern is not completely shared by the organized bar.
The ABA's policy-making House of Delegates last week tabled until December a report by its special committee on professional discipline calling for new rules that would prevent lawyers disbarred or suspended by state courts from continuing to practice in federal courts.
Some laywers disbarred by New York State still practice law with their business cards and letterheads clearly marked to show they handle federal cases only, McNulty said.
According to the committee's report, in one large state 43 lawyers have been suspended or disbarred by state courts but are still practicing in federal court. That holds true in other states surveyed; there were 21 attorneys in one state, 20 in another, 12 in another and three in another.
McNulty said he cannot reveal the names of the states since the information was given the bar group on the condition they not be identified.