Wednesday, May 16, 2018

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The Oklahoma Supreme Court has reinstated an attorney suspended for misconduct in these circumstances

William Martin McLaughlin graduated from Oklahoma City University School of Law in May of 1988. Following successful completion of the bar examination, he was admitted to the Oklahoma Bar Association (hereinafter "OBA") on October 5, 1988. For the first seven years in practice, McLaughlin resided in Stillwater and worked as an assistant district attorney for Logan and Payne Counties. McLaughlin left the district attorney's office in 1995, to begin a private practice.

In September 1997, McLaughlin was involved in an automobile accident which severely injured his left arm. Prior to the accident, McLaughlin had been a "scratch" golfer, but the extensive injury ended his ability to play competitive golf. Consumed with physical pain and depression, McLaughlin began self-medicating with alcohol. As his use of alcohol escalated, McLaughlin accumulated multiple criminal charges. During the hearing before the Professional Responsibility Tribunal (hereinafter "PRT"), McLaughlin testified that he had been charged in sixteen separate criminal cases, all of which were connected to his abuse of alcohol. The vast majority of these criminal charges were for driving under the influence or public intoxication.

The court suspended him on incapacity grounds in 2007. 

After suspension he sought help and the court credited his efforts

 Our primary focus in cases involving incapacity stemming from drug or alcohol abuse is the extent of rehabilitation from the incapacity, the conduct subsequent to the suspension and treatment received for the condition, and the time which has elapsed since the suspension. Id. It is essential that the record demonstrate the applicant has, for a significant amount of time, maintained sobriety and refrained from abusing drugs or alcohol; passed random drug and alcohol tests; immersed himself/herself in a 12-step program; sought necessary counseling; and participated in Lawyers Helping Lawyers. Id. ΒΆ 15, 163 P.3d at 534. Only after an applicant has diligently pursued and maintained his or her sobriety, and has met the other requirements associated with reinstatement, may a petition seeking reinstatement be granted. Id.

 Following his Rule 10 suspension, McLaughlin began efforts to achieve sobriety. While he abstained from alcohol for roughly two years, McLaughlin did not initially attend Alcoholics Anonymous, nor did he implement any other 12-step program. As a result of this omission, McLaughlin continuously relapsed. It wasn't until July 18, 2011, that McLaughlin was finally able to stop drinking alcohol. Following his last drink, McLaughlin began working the 12-steps of AA, and has been able to maintain his sobriety for more than six years.

McLaughlin accumulated multiple criminal charges between 2004 and 2011. Each of the criminal matters formed sufficient basis for disciplinary action by this Court; however, our prior order dismissing the Rule 7 case precludes imposition of discipline. Nevertheless, we have considered these criminal acts for purposes of determining whether reinstatement is justified. There can be no doubt that McLaughlin's actions were reprehensible and reflected negatively on the legal profession. Each time McLaughlin sat behind the wheel of his car while under the influence, he put lives of innocent Oklahoma citizens in jeopardy. Additionally, McLaughlin, while intoxicated, sought sexual favors from a prospective client. The totality of these criminal acts would have certainly warranted disbarment. All of these transgressions, however, were directly attributable to McLaughlin's alcoholism.

Based on the evidence presented at the PRT hearing, the record conclusively establishes dramatic positive changes in McLaughlin's life that were brought about through sobriety. Collectively the record before us demonstrates McLaughlin's present moral character to practice law. While testifying before the PRT, McLaughlin acknowledged the disrepute his behavior brought on the legal profession, and he expressed remorse for his unprofessional conduct. McLaughlin's rehabilitation has been extensive, allowing him to maintain sobriety over a period of more than six years. He has been active in both AA and OBA's Lawyers Helping Lawyers program. Numerous witnesses testified that over the past six years McLaughlin has mentally and physically rehabilitated himself.

For example, McLaughlin's Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor testified that he would hire McLaughlin as his lawyer if he was ever in trouble and McLaughlin had his license back. McLaughlin's senior case manager at the Pershing Center testified, "[McLaughlin] is a man of character," and she would absolutely recommend McLaughlin for reinstatement. Furthermore, McLaughlin's ex-wife testified the she believes he will not relapse again because he treats his sobriety "like oxygen and food, [and] that [it] is the most important thing, because [McLaughlin] has told [her] many times if he doesn't maintain his sobriety, then he will lose everything."

The evidence also demonstrates McLaughlin refrained from engaging in the unauthorized practice of law during his suspension. In 2011, McLaughlin began working as a legal assistant for attorney Clyde Anderson. Aware of his suspension, Anderson conditioned the employment arrangement on an agreement which imposed specific restrictions, including: (1) McLaughlin was prohibited from directly or indirectly dealing with clients; (2) McLaughlin was not allowed to participate in any legal proceeding (including appearing in court, depositions or mediation, etc.) or from transacting any client matter with a third party; (3) McLaughlin could not give clients legal advice in any manner; and (4) McLaughlin was prohibited from handling client funds. Additionally, McLaughlin's work space was situated so as to minimize his contact with incoming clients.

(Mike Frisch)

Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink


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