Saturday, January 1, 2011

Attorney Suspended After Blaming Spouse For His Crimes

The Vermont Supreme Court suspended an attorney for two years with conditions of probation on reinstatement. The court recited the following stipulated facts:

While driving alone from his home to his office on the evening of September 22, 2007, respondent found himself behind two motorcycles.  Because he believed they were traveling under the speed limit, respondent then passed the motorcycles.  As he did so, he thought he saw one of the motorcyclists glare at him.  After he began driving in front of the motorcycles, respondent thought that the motorcycle drivers had begun tailgating him.  Respondent first accelerated and then quickly braked.  Respondent felt an impact on his car but did not think it seemed very hard.  He neither saw an accident nor thought that one had occurred, so he continued driving to his office.  He did notice that one of the motorcycles followed him briefly.       

After arriving at his office, respondent turned around to drive home and get something for his daughter.  As he once again passed the location where he had accelerated and braked, respondent saw cars on the side of the road.  He did not stop.  When respondent arrived home, he left a telephone message for his attorney.  He also drank several alcoholic drinks and convinced his wife to lie on his behalf.  To explain this behavior, respondent testified that he had panicked when he had arrived home after the accident: he feared that he would lose his license to practice, his family, and his status in the community.  He also worried about the consequences if it were discovered that he had consumed alcoholic beverages at two wedding receptions before driving and causing the accident. 

 Shortly after respondent drove to his home, a state trooper received a report of a vehicle that had left the scene of an accident in Killington.  While at the accident scene—where he found an ambulance, a person on a backboard, and a damaged motorcycle, as well as skid marks—the trooper heard that a Killington constable had recognized a description of the car that left the accident scene as belonging to respondent.  When the trooper went to the home of respondent, respondent told him that his wife had been in a car accident.  Respondent went on to tell the trooper that he had been in the passenger seat as his wife drove and that they had felt something hit the car after she tapped the breaks to deal with two motorcycles tailgating them.  He also explained that, acting on his advice, his wife did not stop and, instead, drove home.  When the officer asked respondent how close the motorcycles had been to their car, respondent replied that he could not see them when he turned.  To demonstrate, respondent turned his head over his left shoulder, suggesting that he had been in the passenger seat of the car.  Based on respondent’s statements, the trooper arrested respondent’s wife for leaving the scene of an accident, took her to the Vermont State Police Barracks in Rutland, processed and cited her, and released her to her attorney.

The following morning, respondent sought counseling for alcoholism.  He testified that he also began attending meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous that evening.  During the month following the accident, however, respondent did not tell any law enforcement authorities that he had falsely accused his wife or that he himself had been driving alone at the time of the accident.

The State scheduled an inquest for November 2, 2007, in the case against respondent’s wife.  On October 29, 2007, the state trooper who had interviewed respondent and arrested his wife served subpoenas directing respondent’s wife, their two children, and another witness to appear at the inquest.  The following day, respondent’s attorney called the investigating trooper to schedule a meeting.  At the meeting on October 31, 2007, respondent arrived with his attorney.  The trooper advised respondent of his rights.  Respondent told the trooper that he had falsely implicated his wife on the evening of the accident.  He confessed that he, not his wife, had been driving at the time of accident and submitted a written statement to this effect.

Respondent was charged with multiple crimes.  In November 2008, a jury found him guilty of four criminal offenses, including impeding a public officer in violation of 13 V.S.A. § 3001(a), and providing false reports to law enforcement authorities in violation of 13 V.S.A. § 1754(a). The trial, like the accident, received significant coverage in the local newspapers.  Following the convictions, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel filed a petition of professional misconduct against respondent. 

The two year suspension was imposed as of the date of the attorney's January 2009 interim suspension.

In a separate opinion, the court affirmed the criminal conviction on three counts. reports that the attorney had served as a traffic court judge. (Mike Frisch)

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Wow. Unbelievable. Did the wife get charged with anything? She should have, given that she agreed to lie to the police for her husband.

Posted by: JT | Jan 14, 2011 1:35:06 PM

Another shining example of how much a job the attorney-discipline system is. Stuff like this goes on all the time in every state. The disciplinary boards (aka the state's supreme court) refuse to do anything about the problem.

Posted by: David Wisniewski | Jan 17, 2011 1:59:34 PM

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