Friday, May 25, 2018

Ax Threat Draws Disbarment

The Indiana Supreme Court has disbarred an attorney who had defaulted on these charges

During a phone conversation between Respondent and his estranged wife on May 29, 2015, Respondent threatened that he “was going to split [her] chest open with an axe.” Respondent’s wife immediately called 911 and drove to a police station. Meanwhile, Respondent sent his wife a text message stating that he was going to dispose of and destroy her property. Respondent drove to his wife’s home and was in the process of entering her home when police arrived on the scene with his wife. Respondent was uncooperative and hostile with the officers and told his wife “now you’ve really done it,” at which point Respondent was arrested. An axe was discovered in the passenger seat of his car.

As a result of these actions, Respondent was convicted of intimidation, a level 6 felony. The Court of Appeals affirmed Respondent’s conviction in October 2016.

He was suspended after the conviction.


Turning to the issue of appropriate discipline, we agree with the hearing officer’s observations that Respondent’s criminal conduct “demonstrated a total breakdown of self-restraint,” and that Respondent’s noncooperation with the Commission’s investigation and failure to participate in these disciplinary proceedings likewise reflect exceedingly poorly on Respondent’s commitment to his responsibilities as an attorney and his fitness to practice. (HO’s Report at 11).

The circumstances of Respondent’s crime are profoundly troubling. Respondent not only communicated to his wife a threat to murder her with an axe, he then immediately drove to her house with said axe and was in the process of entering her home when police arrived. Fortunately Respondent’s wife had the presence of mind to call 911 and go to the police station, and thus was not home when Respondent arrived. Respondent’s actions, and the fear evident in his wife’s manner of reaction to his threat, are both suggestive of a heightened possibility that Respondent might have carried out his threat absent his wife’s defensive measures and the timely intervention of law enforcement.

“We have long emphasized that a license to practice law is a privilege, and that privilege is conditioned upon the faithful performance of the responsibilities imposed upon the attorney by the society that grants the privilege.” Matter of Keaton, 29 N.E.3d 103, 110 (Ind. 2015). We recognize that Respondent’s criminal conduct toward his estranged wife over the course of a single evening is distinguishable from the prolonged “scorched earth campaign” committed by the attorney against his exgirlfriend in Keaton, a distinction that prompted the hearing officer in this case to recommend a lengthy suspension rather than disbarment. Nonetheless, the serious nature of Respondent’s misconduct, his resulting felony conviction, his noncooperation with the disciplinary process, and his failure to participate in these proceedings, collectively persuade a majority of this Court to conclude that disbarment is the appropriate sanction in this case.

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