Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Substantial Evidence Of Rehabilitation

The Oklahoma Supreme Court today granted the petition for reinstatement of an attorney who had resigned pending disciplinary proceedings in 1999. The misconduct that had led to the resignation was "of a very serious nature" and included neglect, misrepresentation, charging excessive fees and misuse of client funds that had resulted in the client's arrest. The attorney's backgound was described by the court:

"From the time Mr. Pate was admitted to the Oklahoma Bar Association in 1991 until he resigned in 1999, he lived in Poteau, Oklahoma, and practiced law there, although for a period of approximately ten months, he served as Assistant District Attorney in Pushmataha County. Mr. Pate's family is well known in the LeFlore County community and their name has long been associated with the local practice of law; his father was a judge there as well as a practicing attorney, and his uncle was a practicing lawyer there. Mr. Pate was a general practitioner, well known for willingly representing economically deprived clients in matters which were of great importance to them but offered minimal compensation to counsel."

As to the circumstances of the misconduct and his efforts to rehabilitate:

"Mr. Pate testified that his failure to properly attend to the affairs of his clients in a lawful and professional manner resulted from long-term substance abuse problems. Conceding that he was an alcoholic and a drug addict, Mr. Pate was very open and honest and with the panel in his testimony. He described in detail his life before and after his resignation and offered no excuses or rationalizations for his behavior. He accepted all responsibility for his failings, professional and personal, and their consequences. He did not minimize the seriousness of his offenses, and he fully acknowledged and expressed remorse for the disfavor and disrepute his actions had cast upon his profession and the judiciary.

Mr. Pate told the panel he now recognizes he was about the last person in LeFlore County to know that he was addicted to drugs, that it was causing significant problems in his life and that he was in trouble. His family and friends, attorneys and judges in Le Flore County, the local bar association and the townspeople had long been aware that he was impaired. By April 30, 1999, when he finally realized he was out of control and came to the Bar Center in Oklahoma City to sign his resignation in the General Counsel's office, friends and clergy had already tried interventions, the local bar association was taking action to deal with problems he was creating and local lawyers were taking steps to shift his client load away from him.

Very shortly after his resignation, he entered a drug and alcohol treatment program in Arkansas where he spent seven days as an inpatient and three weeks as an outpatient. This initial treatment was not successful. Mr. Pate related that he was not able to stay off drug and alcohol for more than a few weeks at a time. By October 1999, he was beginning to do fairly well and got a job researching title and land records, but he was still drinking. Things did not go well after that. His wife left him when she found out he was not staying sober. He did not go back to work and he moved in with his parents.

In October 2000, Mr. Pate became fully dedicated to recovery. At first he was simply attending Narcotics Anonymous meetings in Arkansas and Poteau, but very soon he started chairing their meetings and became very involved in serving the organization on the regional level as well. He became area chairperson and began putting together workshops aimed at coordinating meetings with the new drug court groups to help them learn more about recovery and enable them to have people with 'clean time' of long duration at their meetings. This has been the focus of his service in recovery.

Mr. Pate continues to attend many meetings, serving as a speaker at meetings and facilitating workshops. He has become involved with the Lawyers Helping Lawyers Committee and provides the director with regular weekly reports of his activities and meetings attended. He plans to remain an active part of that group if he is readmitted. He explained that his personal recovery is to go to as many meetings as possible and work with his sponsors to complete his twelve steps of recovery. He tries to work through the steps every year to keep refreshed. Mr. Pate has also attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings on a regular basis."

Further, the attorney is "employed as a supervisory child-care worker in a home for adolescent boys" and made full restitution. If ever there were a case where reinstatement seems fully justified, this would appear to be it. (Mike Frisch)

Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink

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