Monday, September 29, 2008

More Than Role Playing

The West Virginia Supreme Court annulled  an attorney's license and ordered two years of supervised probation, among other conditions, upon reinstatement. The attorney had paid one Curtis Griffin to locate an individual that he had hired to renovate his office building. Thereafter, as the opinion recites:

After several weeks without hearing anything from Griffin, a series of telephone calls took place, in February 2004, between Griffin and William Curtin. Curtin was a part time process server and courier for the respondent. Curtin told Griffin that, if he could obtain a handgun for respondent Blevins, the $500 would be forgiven. In addition, Curtin indicated that there were four people the respondent wanted them to “go get” who owed the respondent money. Curtin stated that he, Griffin and the respondent would share the monies collected. One person “down in Uniontown” was to have his “brain beat in.” Unknown to Curtin, his comments were recorded by law enforcement officers. At that time, Griffin was an informant in an unrelated matter for the Ohio Valley Drug Task Force and had advised the officers about some of his contacts with Curtin.

On February 21, 2004, Griffin, with audio and video surveillance devices hidden on his body, met Curtin and respondent Blevins in an alley near Market Street in Wheeling. From there, they walked to a nearby 7-Eleven Food Store and then to respondent Blevins' law office. While in the office, the respondent confirmed that he wanted Griffin to obtain a handgun for him. Moreover, four people who owed the respondent money were discussed. First, the respondent stated that, of the amount owed by contractor Horbatak, the respondent wanted $5,000, and Griffin and Curtin could keep the excess. The respondent warned: “So you've got to let [Horbatak] know, if he opens his mouth to anyone, he's done.” Second, respondent Blevins stated that the individual in Uniontown was a former client who owed him $3,400. The respondent stated that he wanted $400 from that individual and that Griffin and Curtin could split the $3,000. Again, the respondent warned: “But you tell him, if he goes and talks to anybody on the planet, he's going to have a little problem here.” Griffin replied: “I'll cut his f*ckin' tongue out.”

            Third, respondent Blevins stated that a former client by the name of Stiltenpole in West Alexander, Pennsylvania, owed him $1,500 and that, upon collection, Griffin and Curtin could share the entire amount. As the respondent concluded: “Well, he's probably the easiest because he's a dope dealer, and he may not go squealing.” Fourth, the respondent stated that a former client by the name of Dickerson of Belmont County, Ohio, owed him $2,000. Respondent Blevins stated that, upon collection, he wanted $1,000, and Griffin and Curtin could share the remaining $1,000. As respondent Blevins stated: “This guy thinks he's a tough guy, but he'll crack like a cookie, and he has got money.”

            During the February 21, 2004, meeting, Griffin stated three times that he was a “two-time loser.” Respondent Blevins subsequently testified before the Hearing Panel Subcommittee that, although he did not believe Griffith was being truthful in making that statement, he understood the phrase “two-time loser” to mean a person with prior criminal convictions. In any event, after the comments were made by Griffin, the respondent stated:

              Mr. Blevins: “But what I'm saying is Billy [Curtin] will know exactly when I'm leaving. He knows exactly when I'm coming back. I don't care. First, I don't care what you do.”
              Mr. Griffin: “Okay. Just get the money.”
              Mr. Blevins: “But whatever you do, I'm somewhere else.”
              Mr. Griffin: “Right.”


            Finally, during the February 21, 2004, meeting, a number of other individuals who owed the respondent money were discussed, and the respondent indicated that, when Griffin and Curtin collected the money from the first four, set forth above, the respondent would give Griffin and Curtin “another list.”

            On February 24 and February 25, 2004, discussions took place between Griffin and Curtin in Wheeling: (1) at The Sportsman Club, (2) an establishment known as Little Ricky's and (3) in Curtin's vehicle, all of which were the subject of audio and video surveillance by the Ohio Valley Drug Task Force. Griffin and Curtin talked about obtaining the handgun for the respondent and about the plan to recover the various monies from the individuals discussed on February 21, 2004. In carrying out the plan, Griffin suggested that he and Curtin bring ski masks, tape and gloves.

The court rejected as incredible the assertions that the lawyer was unaware of Griffin's criminal history and that he only "role playing." As the court concluded:

It is not believable that any attorney, let alone one who has an extensive criminal defense practice, would only “pretend” to hire a known criminal capable of extreme violence and condone criminal behavior in an attempt to obtain a gun and to collect a debt. * * * Respondent could have availed himself of legal means to obtain a gun for himself and could have initiated civil suits against the individuals who owed him money. However, respondent chose not to employ those legal means to reach his goal.


      In recommending sanctions for respondent Blevins' conduct, the Hearing Panel Subcommittee found no mitigating factors, other than the consideration that he had no disciplinary history. Moreover, the Subcommittee noted that the respondent testified that “he was not suffering from any physical, mental or substance abuse issues that would have impaired his judgment or his ability to practice law in February 2004.” On the other hand, the Subcommittee determined the following to constitute aggravating factors: (1) that the respondent exhibited a dishonest and selfish motive in soliciting the services of a two-time felon to locate and extort money and obtain a handgun, (2) that the respondent refused to acknowledge the wrongful nature of his conduct and (3) that the respondent “has substantial experience in the practice of law, including an active criminal defense practice.”

I thought that a license annullment meant that one is treated as having never been admitted. In fact, it appears that the word means the same as disbarred (see Rule 3.33 of the West Virginia Rules of Disciplinary Procedure). (Mike Frisch)

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