This Day In History: May 2

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On May 2, 1974, the Maryland Court of Appeals orders the disbarment of former U.S. Vice President Spiro Agnew, seven months after his no-contest plea to a tax-evasion charge in the United States District Court in Baltimore. In a strongly worded, 13-page opinion, Maryland’s highest court writes that disbarment is an automatic consequence for a lawyer convicted on a charge with “moral turpitude,” unless the lawyer makes “compelling exculpatory explanation.”

Associate Judge J. Dudley Digges wrote a scathing opinion of the disgraced vice president, who resigned from the nation’s second-highest office on October 10, 1973—the same day he appeared in the Baltimore court to enter his plea for charges that he failed to report $29,500 in income in 1967 while governor of Maryland. The resignation, which came amid the Watergate scandal involving President Richard Nixon, was the first time in U.S. history that a vice president stepped down because of criminal charges. Agnew had served as Nixon’s number two since January 1969. Nixon replaced him in the role with Michigan Congressman Gerald R. Ford.

“It is difficult to feel compassion for an attorney who is so morally obtuse that he consciously cheats for his own pecuniary gain that Government he has sworn to serve, completely disregards the words of the oath he uttered when first admitted to the bar; and absolutely fails to perceive his professional duty to act honestly in all matters,” Digges wrote.

The court rejected the argument from Agnew’s lawyers that throughout the country, lawyers convicted on tax charges more often get suspension than disbarment.

“To do other than disbar the respondent in this case would constitute a travesty of our responsibility,” the ruling stated.

After this case, Agnew wrote a book published in 1980 titled Go Quietly…or Else, which defended his political career and criticized the Nixon administration. Agnew became a consultant to foreign business concerns. Agnew died of acute leukemia on September 17, 1996.

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