Thursday, March 27, 2008

Another Cautionary Tale

The Oregon Supreme Court denied readmission of an attorney suspended in 1995 for non-payment of bar dues. The Bar contended that the case should be treated as a reinstatement after disbarment and the applicant did not contend otherwise. The attorney had been admitted in Oregon notwithstanding some evidence of an alcohol problem. Shortly after admission, the following took place:

"Following his admission to the Bar, applicant worked as a law clerk at a Portland law firm.  He continued to use alcohol and marijuana, but did not do so during work.  However, at a firm picnic, applicant had too much to drink and engaged in a verbal confrontation with one of the partners regarding that partner's contributions to the firm.  The firm promptly terminated applicant from his job."

He then went inactive, moved to San Francisco and became a stockbroker. He continued to drink and became addicted to cocaine. This led to a series of incidents that took place while he was using crack cocaine. He pleaded guilty to stalking his ex-girlfriend, was charged with cocaine possession, struck a parking lot attendant during an attempt to steal a girlfriend's car, and pleaded guilty to felony driving under the influence of intoxicants. While there was no evidence of illegal drug use after 1997, he has continued to drink. He had filed for bankruptcy, discharging over $236,000 in debt.

His continued "social" drinking caused concern to the court:

"The evidence about whether applicant has overcome his addiction to drugs is undermined at least to some degree by  Byrd's testimony suggesting that there is a very high likelihood of a relapse into addiction due to applicant's continued consumption of alcohol.  In our view, the evidence regarding applicant's moral character in that regard is in conflict.  We cannot find that his drug and alcohol habits presently affect his ability to practice law and constitute a danger to the public.  We also cannot find affirmatively that applicant has overcome his drug and alcohol habits so that he is not a danger to the public.  Applicant bears the burden of proof on that question and must carry that burden by clear and convincing evidence.  We find that applicant has failed to carry his burden of proof."

As to the impact of the bankruptcies, the court noted that "a bankruptcy will not reflect adversely on applicant's character if it is motivated by an exteraordinary hardship."Here, "applicant and his wife took on over $400,000 in debt, over and above their existing consumer and tax debt, at a time when applicant should have known that his job was in jeopardy." In sum:

"Applicant has filed for bankruptcy twice in a span of eight years, discharging similar consumer debts in the process and purchasing a new house shortly before the later filing.  The circumstances surrounding the bankruptcy raise doubts as to the applicant's moral character.  We do not necessarily agree with the Bar's contention  that those events indicate 'a coordinated plan to obtain a new home in Portland at the expense of his past creditors.'  However, we are left with a substantial doubt whether applicant is prepared to honor his financial obligations in the manner expected of lawyers admitted to the Bar."

Reinstatement denied. (Mike Frisch)

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