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Convicted Drug Smuggler Loses Quest To Be Massachusetts Lawyer

February 16, 1996

BOSTON (AP) _ A convicted drug smuggler who was denied permission to practice law in Massachusetts said Thursday he plans to apply for the bar again in five years.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, in a 6-1 ruling Thursday, denied Harvey Prager admission to the state’s bar. The court is the final arbiter of who practices law in the state.

In a statement read by his lawyer, Prager said he was disappointed with the ruling but realized that ``practicing law is a privilege and that he must earn the right to do so.″

The former Phi Beta Kappa scholar at Bowdoin College said in his bar application that he started smoking marijuana while a graduate student at Harvard University. He eventually dropped out and got involved in smuggling after he and some friends refurbished a boat.

Prager, 47, pleaded guilty in 1988 to federal charges of masterminding the shipment of 11 tons of marijuana. He persuaded a federal judge to allow him to serve a five-year sentence that required him to care for AIDS patients in his Portland, Maine, home.

While running the hospice, Prager attended law school at the University of Maine and won a clerkship with the Maine Supreme Court. He has passed the state bar exam.

In its ruling, the SJC said there wasn’t enough distance between Prager’s lawless past and his apparently new life to justify his admittance to the bar.

``The applicant may be on a course of conduct conducive to a future finding of rehabilitation,″ Chief Justice Paul Liacos wrote.

``We conclude, however, that seven years of a credible work history, successful completion of law school, and compliance with the terms of a five-year probationary period are insufficient to show good moral character when balanced against approximately 16 years of marijuana use, international smuggling and living as a fugitive,″ Liacos said.

Justice Francis O’Connor, who dissented, said Prager had come a long way.

``This court’s order ... sends the wrong message,″ O’Connor wrote. ``A fundamental precept of our system ... is that men can be rehabilitated.″ The SJC left the door open for Prager to reapply to the bar in five years.

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