August 29, 2008
In Search Of The Perfect Lawn
Another interesting bar discipline decision of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court deals with the impact of mental health issues in determining an appropriate sanction. The attorney had submitted 34 false travel vouchers to his law firm, obtaining slightly under $70,000. His actions were discovered by the firm. He resigned, reported the misconduct and made full restitution to the firm.
The reason? He was diagnosed with obsessive/compulsive disorder, particular subtype of symmetry and ordering. The particulars of the behavior, dating back to his college years, are described in some detail. The misconduct was triggered by his involvement in California litigation and guilt over separation from his family. His obsession focused on the exterior of his house. During the misconduct he had spent $69,000 on landscaping in a single year, up from the usual $28,000 per year. The funds were taken to aid in the concealment of the ensuing financial problems.
The Disciplinary Board concluded that the condition caused the misconduct and that he is in the process of rehabilitation. The board recommended a stayed five-year suspension with five years of supervised probation subject to a number of conditions including continued treatment and recovery. The court agreed. (Mike Frisch)
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My wife has long said I suffer from some kind of obsessive/compulsive disorder when it comes to landscape maintenance for our condo assoc. If I don't venture outdoors or don't look out the window, I can avoid succumbing to it! She'll be delighted to learn there's a particular name for this: symmetry and ordering...(which I've long dedicated to the arrangement of household items). Fortunately, I lack access to funds of any sort (I'm paid a fixed and paltry sum for my labors) by way of ratcheting up this symmetry and ordering behavior. Nonetheless, in the instant case: "the condition caused the conduct"? How about merely or simply was a contributing factor? Does everyone with "symmetry and ordering" symptoms engage in unethical or illegal conduct?
Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Aug 29, 2008 4:08:23 PM
The mitigation test in Pennsylvania (the Braun test) asks whether the mental disorder was a substantial factor in causing the misconduct. Of course, the attorney also must show rehabilitation.
Posted by: Mike Frisch | Aug 29, 2008 5:08:40 PM
Thanks for the clarification Mike (I suspected as much but thought I'd have a bit of fun with it).
Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Aug 29, 2008 6:18:56 PM