Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Recovery Prevents Disbarment

The Louisiana Supreme Court imposed a three-year suspension nunc pro tunc to 2000 (when the attorney had been placed on disability inactive status) in a case involving multiple instances of misconduct that the attorney "largely admitted..." as mitigation, the attorney claimed that the misconduct had occurred during a period of substance abuse for which he has been treated and achieved sobriety. the court concluded that a downward departure from the baseline sanction of disbarment was appropriate:

The record indicates that in 1993, respondent realized he was suffering from a grave disability in the form of an addiction to drugs and alcohol. Respondent requested that this court transfer him to disability inactive status and he thereafter admitted himself to a long-term substance abuse treatment facility. Since being admitted to treatment, respondent has achieved and maintained sobriety. He has demonstrated a cooperative attitude during these proceedings and is remorseful for the harm caused by his addiction. Respondent also has an excellent reputation in the legal community and in the community at large, as evidenced by the compelling character testimony offered on his behalf before the hearing committee.

One notable fact is that there was no medical testimony offered to prove a causal connection between the addiction and misconduct. Rather, "the committee accepted [the attorney's] belief that his chemical dependency was the cause of the misconduct." Many courts would require expert testimony on addiction and causation to treat it as a mitigation factor. Here, the result seems appropriate as the attorney has been suspended for over seven years and demonstated substantial rehabilitation. (Mike Frisch)

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