Monday, August 3, 2015
The report of the District of Columbia Board of Professional Responsibility in the case of Wayne Rohde, Board Docket No. D347-05, has been filed.
You may remember the case - it involves an attorney who drove from the District of Columbia to Virginia after a night of heavy drinking. He struck and seriously injured another motorist, fled the scene but left his car bumper with license plate affixed behind.
He pled guilty and was sentenced in 2005 to felony criminal charges in Virginia.
The D.C. disciplinary system began its processes that same year.
The board found that the conduct did not involve moral turpitude because the attorney was suffering from an "alcoholic blackout" when he committed these crimes.
The effect of the "blackout" was a subject of conflicting expert testimony
[Bar Counsel expert] Dr. Blumberg disagreed with [respondent's expert] Dr. Whitfield concerning the effects of an alcoholic blackout. In his opinion, a person suffering an alcoholic blackout can still access his long term memory and is able to distinguish right from wrong; the person still knows when his or her behavior is illegal or unethical. FF 90. Applying these principles to this case, Dr. Blumberg testified that at the time of the collision, Respondent was aware of the collision and understood that it was wrong to leave the scene, even if he later did not remember having such knowledge or awareness. FF 92. Dr. Blumberg opined that Respondent did not lose the ability to appreciate the wrongfulness of his actions or to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law and that he retained the ability to form the specific intent to stop and render aid to Ms. Banks. Although Respondent’s judgment was impaired, he did not lose the capacity to choose the proper course of action. FF 93. In support of his opinion, Dr. Blumberg observed that Respondent was able to perform a number of other tasks during his alcoholic blackout, including paying his bar tab, with a tip, retrieving his car from the parking garage, and driving to the scene of the collision and then home after colliding with Ms. Banks. FF 94. Respondent’s ability to drive home suggested an awareness that he was involved in an accident and that he was choosing to leave the scene. FF 95. Dr. Blumberg agreed with Dr. Whitfield that, but for Respondent’s intoxication, he would not have left the scene of his collision with Ms. Banks. FF 96. The determination of the credibility of the experts was central to the Hearing Committee’s findings. The Hearing Committee found that it was a “close question,” FF 105, but ultimately credited Dr. Whitfield’s testimony in its entirety.
So let me get this straight. An attorney practices at a major law firm and there is not a hint of evidence that he functions below par at work. His practice is to get loaded night after night near work and drive home drunk to Virginia. Like a random bullet from a gun, the inevitable happens. Fortunately, he causes major injury but not death. He flees the scene.
No real disciplinary consequences because he'a an alcoholic?
If it's a "close question," why not protect the public and uphold the integrity of the legal profession?
While the board found ethical violations, it was a treated as a mitigating factor that he was an alcoholic when he was driving drunk.
It found distinguishable the Tidwell case, where the court disbarred the attorney for causing a death while driving drunk and fled the scene. Likewise the Hoare case, where the court imposed a two-year suspension for a vehicular homicide where the attorney did not flee, played no role in the sanction analysis.
Rather, the proposed sanction is probation without suspension for a single day
we recommend that Respondent be suspended for two years with a requirement to prove his fitness to practice as a condition of reinstatement, and that the suspension be stayed in favor of a three-year period of supervised probation, subject to the conditions set forth by Hearing Committee Number Three in its Report and Recommendation. We further recommend that Respondent not be required to provide his clients notice of the probation.
For nearly killing someone and fleeing the scene.
They note that the incident happened eleven years ago and never (unless I missed it) acknowledge that seven years of that time involved their own hearing committee's disgraceful delay.
And he doesn't need to tell his clients about it - it's double secret probation.
By coincidence, he's a big firm lawyer.
It's another day in the the world of the D.C. bar disciplinary system.
The Board report can be found at this link by entering the attorney's name. (Mike Frisch)