Thursday, January 12, 2017

Commitment To Sobriety Influences Bar Sanction

A retroactive 30-month suspension has been imposed by the South Carolina Supreme Court

In 2013, respondent was arrested and charged with driving under the influence ("DUI"), first offense; failure to give or giving improper signal; and hit and run involving property damage. He pleaded guilty to DUI and improper turn; the remaining charge was dismissed. Respondent paid a fine.

Approximately one year later, respondent was arrested and charged with use of a firearm while under the influence of alcohol or drugs; disorderly conduct; and damaging/tampering with a vehicle. He pleaded guilty to unlawful carrying of a pistol and again paid a fine. Shortly after his arrest for the second incident, this Court placed respondent on interim suspension. See In re McMaster, 407 S.C. 213, 755 S.E.2d 107 (2014).

Post-suspension events played a significant role in the disposition

In April 2016, the Panel conducted an evidentiary hearing where respondent pledged his continued commitment to sobriety, rehabilitation, and the profession. The Panel's report noted aggravating and mitigating factors it considered, and recommended sanctions for respondent. As to aggravating factors, the Panel noted respondent engaged in illegal conduct. As to mitigating factors, the Panel noted: the absence of a prior disciplinary record; respondent's "full and free disclosure and cooperative attitude" in the disciplinary proceedings; and respondent's depression and dependency on alcohol. The Panel then recommended respondent: (1) be suspended from the practice of law for a period of thirty months, retroactive to the commencement of his interim suspension—March 4, 2014; (2) pay the costs of the disciplinary proceedings; (3) complete the Legal Ethics and Practice Program Ethics School prior to reinstatement; (4) enter into another two year contract with Lawyers Helping Lawyers; (5) continue treatment with his psychiatrist for a period of two years; and (6) continue treatment with his medical provider for his depression and anxiety for a period of two years.

The court accepted the panel recommendations. (Mike Frisch)

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