Saturday, January 17, 2015
The most overdue District of Columbia hearing committee report (perhaps ever) has finally been filed.
Attorney Wayne R. Rohde was convicted of felony hit and run in Virginia way back in 2005.
After a night of heavy drinking at a D.C. bar called Rumors, he drove home to Virginia. En route, he caused a head on collision that seriously injured a woman, backed his car away from the collision and drove home.
His effort to avoid detection failed in part because he had left his car bumper (with license plate affixed) at the scene.
He managed to convince the Court of Appeals to not suspend him pending the disciplinary proceedings, a departure from the court's usual (indeed, nearly invariable) practice for felony convictions.
The hearing was competed on January 15, 2008.
The report was filed last Friday - seven years and a day after.
And it stinks.
According to the committee, the offense is not one of moral turpitude and was caused by his alcoholism. The committee bought his story that he was essentially morally blameless due to an "alcoholic blackout."
Notably, he denied an ongoing alcohol problem when it served his purposes in the criminal case. In the disciplinary case, the cause was demon rum. That little inconsistency was no problem for the hearing committee.
Nor were his four prior alcohol-related traffic accidents an issue.
The committee recommends a fully stayed suspension of two years and a day and probation.
Not one minute of suspension for severely injuring someone while driving drunk and fleeing the scene.
Hardly worth waiting for.
And, a decade after that near-fatal night, this matter is nowhere near resolution.
The Board on Professional Responsibility must review the report and make its own recommendation for final court action.
Note that the Court of Appeals disbarred an attorney convicted of a similar offense (albeit one that caused a death) in this 2003 opinion.
There the court said
The hearing established more than just respondent's knowledge; it established a particularly callous disregard for another human being as respondent left the scene after causing serious injury to Mr. Fruehauf without rendering any aid or assistance and, most significantly, that respondent made no effort to determine whether Mr. Fruehauf, who was left lying in the roadway, needed help and assistance. [Emphasis added.]
The Board could reasonably conclude that Mr. Tidwell's failure to stop his car after he hit Mr. Fruehauf-with a force that shattered the right side of the windshield and was loud enough to be heard by neighbors in their houses-certainly violated the “generally accepted moral code.” In re Colson, 412 A.2d at 1168; In re Sneed, 673 A.2d at 594. His failure to notify the authorities until several days later makes his conduct even more “contrary to justice, honesty, or morality.” BLACK'S LAW DICTIONARY 1026 (7th ed.1999). On this record, we have no doubt that Mr. Tidwell's conduct fits easily within the definition of moral turpitude that this court has adopted in Colson and other cases.
I'd call that Tidwell decision a relevant precedent.
Good luck with that "alcoholic blackout" story as mitigation in a criminal case. In D.C. bar discipline, all is forgiven.
And perhaps this forgiving report is the hearing committee's way of excusing its own gross neglect of its responsibilities.
After all, it's not a suspension case, in their view.
Update: The report is now available on line at this link. (Mike Frisch)