Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Attorney Suspended For Crimes Against Family; Lapsed After 28 Years Of Sobriety

The Oklahoma Supreme Court has suspended an attorney as a result of criminal charges

John Christopher Hastings, ("Respondent") entered a plea of "No Contest" on a misdemeanor charge of pointing a firearm. He received a 2 year deferred sentence to be supervised by the District Attorney's office and to include a Drug/Alcohol assessment. A disciplinary action was commenced by the Oklahoma Bar Association ("OBA") against Respondent. The panel issued a report recommending Hastings' license to practice law be suspended for a period of two years and one day. After reviewing the evidence and considering all mitigation factors we determine Respondent's license should be suspended for a period of two years.

The story

On December 30, 2014, the police responded to a call at Respondent's residence after he pointed a gun at his ex-wife and threatened her life. Respondent's adult daughter and two adult sons also lived in his home. Earlier that day, at the request of his daughter, Respondent contacted his ex-wife to come and pick up their daughter from his home. The daughter was recovering from a medical procedure and wanted her mother to take care of her for a few days.

Respondent's twenty-seven year marriage to his ex-wife ended six months before this incident. Prior to the divorce, there were years of prolonged domestic violence by the ex-wife against the Respondent. The ex-wife made an attempt on his life with a butcher knife in addition to other forms of abuse that included plots to end his life.  Although during the divorce process there were multiple allegations of violence by both parties, the only permanent protective order that was entered was against the ex-wife to protect Respondent.  This protective order was entered on February 8, 2012, for a three year period, until 2015.  Thus, this protective order would have been in effect on December 30, 2014, the day the ex-wife was inside of Respondent's home.

 Respondent had been on an alcohol drinking binge that day and he was agitated and hostile by the time his ex-wife was inside of his home. The record is not clear how the ex-wife gained access inside of Respondent's home  It is likewise unclear how this matter escalated between the parties. The record simply reflects that at some point, Respondent pointed a gun at his ex-wife and made threatening statements.

The ex-wife and 3 adult children exited Respondent's home unharmed before the police arrived. A police officer went to Respondent's front door and asked him to come outside. He was uncooperative and resistive to multiple requests by the police, and he refused to come out. The Special Operation Team ("SOT") of the police force was eventually called in and they took over negotiations. There was a stand-off for several hours and the SOT eventually had to use tear gas to force Respondent out of his home. Respondent had slurred speech, a heavy odor of alcohol and was unsteady on his feet when he exited the house.9 This incident was covered by local television stations and local newspapers.

Respondent was arrested on the night of the incident and he was initially charged with two separate felony counts: (1) pointing a firearm; and (2) resisting an officer. On April 10, 2015, Respondent entered into a plea agreement the terms of which included the dismissal of both felony counts.10 In exchange, Respondent agreed to plea of "no contest" to a charge of misdemeanor of pointing a firearm and agreed to a drug and alcohol assessment with a two (2) year deferred sentence, set for hearing on April 6, 2017.11 Respondent appeared for this hearing as ordered on April 6, 2017. The district court withdrew Respondent's previous guilty plea to the misdemeanor charge, dismissed the charge and granted an expungement.

Respondent testified that shortly after this incident, he was hospitalized for approximately one month with serious medical issues unrelated to the events of this night.13 He stopped drinking alcohol sometime in January, 2015. Respondent also began attending Alcoholics Anonymous ("AA") and he considers his official sobriety date in February, 2015. Since that time, he has been actively involved in substance abuse recovery. These efforts include professional treatment, becoming active with AA by attending multiple meetings each week and having frequent communication with his sponsor. Random drug and alcohol screens have all been negative. All evidence presented reflects Respondent has been compliant with his substance abuse recovery efforts. He completed the drug and alcohol assessment as ordered by the criminal court. At the request of the OBA, he was evaluated by a psychologist it selected. Respondent has followed all additional recommendations of this OBA expert.

 At the time of this incident, Respondent was suffering from alcohol and opiate addictions, as well as post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD") related in part from abuse in the marriage. The OBA expert testified the documentation she reviewed reflected there was tremendous abuse by the ex-wife that went on for some period of time during their marriage. In her opinion, this deteriorating marital relationship contributed to Respondent's downward spiral. Before his marriage failed, Respondent had been sober for twenty-eight (28) years.

In addition to substance abuse and PTSD, Respondent was diagnosed as having other mental health issues. He received follow up and treatment for all diagnosed conditions. The OBA expert testified that Respondent is considered to be in full remission with respect to his alcohol and opiate addictions and stable in all respects. Another expert also testified that Respondent's prognosis is excellent with regard to his substance abuse recovery. The OBA expert and Respondent's treating provider both concluded that he is fit to practice law.

Respondent has expressed genuine regret and remorse over his actions of December 30, 2014 and its impact and disgrace to the legal profession. The record reflects that since the events of that day, Respondent has sought out treatment and demonstrated a commitment to recovery. Random drug and alcohol random tests have all been negative. There have been no other allegations raised against Respondent since this isolated incident.

Sanction

 Although this Court does not excuse Respondent's behavior, we recognize that there were extraordinary circumstances that created the conditions that made the events of December 30, 2014 possible. Respondent did not leave his home that day with the intent of being aggressive toward his ex-wife. Rather, his ex-wife, who had been court ordered to stay away from Respondent, wound up inside of Respondent's home at a time he was agitated and drunk. Respondent has not been aggressive towards his ex-wife or anybody else since this incident. Respondent has accepted full responsibility for his actions and has demonstrated consistent and long term commitment to his substance abuse recovery.

The OBA's expert psychologist testified after reviewing extensive medical records and an in person evaluation with Hastings, she is confident that Hastings is aware of the need for a lifelong commitment to treatment.  The OBA expert also testified that Hastings' alcohol and opiate addiction is in full remission and that he is capable of practicing law.

We ordered an interim suspension which began in April, 2015. Respondent had voluntarily ceased practicing law two months prior to this Court's action. He has honored this Court's order, and he has not practiced law throughout his interim suspension. During this time period, he had to obtain another protective order against his ex-wife. He has not exhibited any other violent behavior and has been faithful to his substance abuse recovery. He has not practiced law for over two years. The element of alcohol abuse was a key factor in the commission of the misdemeanor on December 30, 2014. Considering all of these factors and evidence before us, a two year suspension is the proper discipline in this case.

The Bar Association sought a suspension of two years and a day. (Mike Frisch)

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