Employers in Finland are legally prohibited from running web searches on job applicants. This anti-Googling rule seeks to protect privacy.

We don’t take that approach here in the United States. Although running internet searches on job applicants can raise legal issues, the practice is generally permissible.

So it’s important for current and aspiring employees to maintain clean digital footprints. You never know when an employer, like an elite international law firm, might learn of your criminal past, like your prior conviction for a sex offense….

Please note the UPDATE added below regarding the nature of the offense.

On or about Tuesday, May 28, a summer associate at Cleary Gottlieb was escorted out of the building at One Liberty Plaza. Sources report that the firm terminated the employment of John David Arganbright after learning that he had been previously convicted of a sex offense.

If you enter “John David Arganbright” into Google, you’ll come across entries for him on two websites, SORArchives.com and Busted Offenders. Both sites claim that Arganbright was convicted in 2007 of “involuntary deviate sexual intercourse,” in violation of 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 3123.

(It should be noted that these privately owned websites are not official state sex offender registries. Instead, they simply collect information about arrests and convictions from public records — and then charge people money for removing the negative information about them. That’s a sickening way to make money, but welcome to the 21st century.)

The sites feature John Arganbright’s mugshot. He’s pretty cute, although in need of a shave:

We don’t know the nature of the underlying offense conduct. We’ve posted the relevant Pennsylvania criminal records on the last page of this post. (We haven’t included his various driving-related offenses, which are not relevant for present purposes.)

It appears that the offense took place back in 2005. In 2007, Arganbright pleaded guilty to “IDSI Forcible Compulsion,” with “IDSI” as an abbreviation for “Involuntary Deviate Sexual Intercourse.” Eight other charges were “waived for court”:

  • AGG. IND. ASSAULT – COMP. LESS THAN 16
  • CONTACT/COMM.W/MINOR-SEXUAL OFFENSES
  • CORRUPTION OF MINORS
  • IDSI PERSON LESS THAN 16 YRS AGE
  • IND ASSLT PERSON LESS 16 YRS AGE
  • INVOL. DEVIATE SEXUAL INTERCOURSE W/CHILD
  • SEXUAL ASSAULT
  • STATUTORY SEXUAL ASSAULT

Based on these charges, it would appear that Arganbright, who turned 18 in 2005, was somehow sexually involved with a younger person. If anyone would like to provide information or opinions on what might have happened here, in terms of either the underlying offense conduct or Pennsylvania criminal procedure, please email us, text us (646-820-8477), or post in the comments.

Now let’s leave the icky world of Pennsylvania state court and return to the hallowed halls of Biglaw. Arganbright had been at Cleary Gottlieb for a little over a week at the time of his termination. When he arrived at the firm on May 20, along with other summer associates, the following entry appeared about him in the CGSH Daily Bulletin:

A member of the class of 2014 at Seton Hall University School of Law, John Arganbright received his B.A. in Political Science in 2011 at La Salle University. He is using the office on 45 SW next to Steve Horowitz and his telephone extension is [xxxx].

It’s not clear why Cleary fired Arganbright. Personally speaking, and acknowledging that I don’t (yet) know the full details of the underlying offense conduct, I lean towards Arganbright’s side.

If Cleary fired Arganbright due to his prior sex crime, I don’t know why the firm should care that much about an offense committed some eight years ago, when Arganbright was 17 or 18 years old. It appears that he has served whatever sentence he received for the crime, and he has paid his debt to society.

UPDATE (3:30 p.m.): A Pennsylvania source advises us that John Arganbright had a consensual sexual relationship with a minor while he was a student at Lower Merion High School. As a result of his conviction, Northwestern University rescinded its offer of admission and he went to La Salle for college after serving his sentence. Given that his offense was basically statutory rape, as opposed to a more aggravated form of rape, the argument against his firing grows stronger.

If Cleary fired Arganbright due to a failure to disclose his prior conviction, I’d like to know: what kind of background investigation did the firm conduct before hiring him? It’s hard to claim failure to disclose when a simple Google search for “John David Arganbright” brings up multiple website offender profiles within the first five results. He might not have volunteered his prior conviction for a sex crime, but minimal due diligence would have uncovered it. And if the firm didn’t explicitly ask incoming summer associates about their criminal records, it’s hard to claim that Arganbright affirmatively lied.

We reached out to Cleary Gottlieb for comment. Through a spokesperson, the firm acknowledged receipt of our inquiry but never got back to us with a statement. (As noted in our recent story on Cleary stealth layoffs, the firm generally does not comment on employee departures.)

We also reached out to John Arganbright. He never got back to us, although we received an odd telephone message from an unidentified woman who claimed to be an Arganbright family friend and who said that John would not be commenting. This person also asked us to not write about Arganbright at all or to refrain from naming him or his law school in the event that we were to run a story. She did not provide her name or phone number, but if she had, we would have called her back to explain our inability to comply with her request. We write about law students accused of sex offenses or law students with criminal pasts all the time. See, e.g., here, here, here, here, and many others.

(As for using people’s real names, our general approach has evolved. Originally we named everyone on everything. Today, in an exercise of discretion, we sometimes use pseudonyms rather than actual names. But we generally will use actual names if they are already matters of public record — e.g., if they are contained in arrest, conviction, or other court records. You can read more on the subject here; do a “find” on the page for “publishing names.”)

Declining to comment on this situation is a mistake on Arganbright’s part. At the current time, if you enter “John David Arganbright” into Google, the top results are his now-defunct blog — excerpts from it appear on the next page — and the two private websites with the sex-offender information. It would be much better for the top search result to be an Above the Law story featuring a thoughtful, eloquent, heartfelt statement from Arganbright that explains his side of the story on both his original conviction and what went down at Cleary Gottlieb last week. (And presumably there is an explanation for the conviction; law schools ask applicants about their criminal records, and Seton Hall wouldn’t have admitted Arganbright if he hadn’t provided a satisfactory explanation for his history.)

In this day and age, John Arganbright can’t hide his criminal past. So he might as well explain it — to future employers, romantic partners, or character-and-fitness examiners from the state bar. To anyone who comes across this story in the future while researching Arganbright: as a matter of due process, you should offer him the chance to explain himself, instead of just silently rejecting him.

For better or worse, the United States is not Finland. You can’t stop people from Googling you. But you can at least make an effort to control the results that they see.

(Flip through the next pages to see (1) excerpts from John Arganbright’s now-shuttered blog, with added commentary; (2) his old LinkedIn profile, via Google Cache; and (3) Pennsylvania court records about the offense in question.)


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