America’s 1.2 million lawyers get a bad rap because of relatively few very bad actors. If the state bars want to keep lawyer jokes to a minimum, its time to step up to the plate and bring the house down on the corrupt counselors who taint the profession and make for a suspicious public.

Last month, the Virginia Bar reprimanded Monica Goodling Krempasky for her admitted role in politicizing the hiring of 1.) entry-level attorneys under the Honors Program 2.) law students under the Summer Law Intern Program 3.) assistant U.S. attorneys around the country and 4.) immigration judges, among other civil service positions at the Justice Department during the Bush administration.

The bar’s reprimand amounts to a gentle slap on the wrist and still entitles her to practice law.

An internal Justice Department investigation concluded that Ms. Goodling-K and her boss, Kyle Sampson, former chief of staff to the attorney general –– and now a highly paid partner at a major Washington, D.C., law firm –– “... violated department policy and federal law ... ”

Apparently, that is not enough for the Virginia, District of Columbia or Utah Bars –– Sampson is admitted to practice in both D.C. and Utah –– to warrant punishment.

I worked closely with the Honors and Summer Law Intern programs for many years. These are highly competitive merit-hiring processes that brought the very best young lawyers in the country to work for the public good, regardless of their politics or ideological leanings. Four years ago, I formally requested the Virginia Bar to permanently disbar Ms. Goodling-K for her systematic and multiple federal offenses.

Lawyer misconduct and unethical behavior as exemplified by Goodling-K and Sampson are not limited to Justice Department bureaucrats, the institutional poster child of law and ethical behavior. For example, it also infects many of the major law firms in this country.

Enron’s outside law firm is still thriving in Houston, Texas, and elsewhere despite being fingered for its role in the company’s illegal manipulations of its financial statements and the energy industry. The hundreds of large law firms that participated in securitizing the junk mortgages that contributed so much to the economic meltdown have not suffered any reprimand, despite knowing full well that the investment instruments they were creating were garbage.

Attorneys are, by far, the most heavily regulated profession. They are subject to the most rigorous and extensive rules, regulations and transparency regarding their professional conduct. They are required to undergo more ethics training than any other profession.

If attorneys deviate from the ethical path, their missteps and resulting discipline become a matter of public record open to any existing or prospective client. That is much more than can be said for physicians or most other professions, where transparency is a joke. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, for example, maintains two databases of health care provider misconduct — one for physicians and one for hospitals — but does not make them available to the public. Yet despite this, stuff happens, and the bar regulators too often close their eyes.

America’s 1.2 million lawyers get a bad rap because of relatively few very bad actors. If the state bars want to keep lawyer jokes to a minimum, its time to step up to the plate and bring the house down on the corrupt counselors who taint the profession and make for a suspicious public.

“Rants” is a series of political and social observations written by Richard Hermann in New York. Email him at kfrisch@messengerpostmedia.com.