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State ex rel. Oklahoma Bar Association v. Hunt

Supreme Court of Oklahoma

April 11, 2017

STATE OF OKLAHOMA ex rel. OKLAHOMA BAR ASSOCIATION, Complainant,
v.
JOHN MARSHALL HUNT, Respondent.

         PROFESSIONAL DISCIPLINARY PROCEEDING

          Tommy Humphries, Assistant General Counsel, Oklahoma Bar Association, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for Complainant.

          Larry G. Cassil, Jr., PLLC, Hornbeek, Vitali, & Braun, P.L.L.C., Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          EDMONDSON, J.

         ¶0 Respondent, a lawyer, pled guilty in the District Court of Cleveland County to the felony of driving a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol. The Court issued an order of interim suspension in a professional disciplinary proceeding and then granted respondent's request for a continuance prior to imposition of final discipline. The Bar Association recommends public censure. We hold the record is sufficient to show public censure is the appropriate discipline.

         INTERIM SUSPENSION PREVIOUSLY ORDERED IS VACATED: AND RESPONDENT PUBLICLY CENSURED

         ¶1 The matter is before the Court in a Rule 7 disciplinary proceeding on a request for imposition of final professional discipline. We previously entered an order of interim suspension. After review of the record before us we conclude that interim suspension should be vacated and the appropriate discipline is a public censure.

         ¶2 Respondent, a lawyer, pled guilty in the District Court of Cleveland County to the felony crime of driving a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, after a plea in another matter for the misdemeanor offense of operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol. This Court entered an interim order suspending respondent's license to practice law on February 16, 2016. Respondent waived his right to contest the interim suspension. Respondent then filed an unopposed motion to continue this Rule 7 disciplinary proceeding pending respondent's completion of drug court rehabilitation and resolution of the District Court criminal case. This Court granted the motion to continue the proceeding. Approximately one year later, respondent filed a notice of stating he had successfully completed the drug court rehabilitation program, and the criminal misdemeanor and felony charges have been dismissed.

         ¶3 The Court ordered respondent to show cause why final discipline should not be imposed, and to request a hearing for evidence of mitigation or file a brief on the matter. Respondent filed a brief, waived a hearing, and requested a private reprimand with vacation of the interim suspension. The Bar Association requests interim suspension be lifted and discipline imposed in the form of a public censure.

         ¶4 A lawyer's conduct warranting a felony charge for repeated operation of a motor vehicle while intoxicated is conduct which is subject to professional discipline in many states. [1] Rule 7.1 of the Rules Governing Disciplinary Proceedings states a conviction, or pleas of guilty or nolo contendere to "a crime which demonstrates such lawyer's unfitness to practice law" shall serve as a basis for that lawyer's professional discipline." [2] In State ex rel. Oklahoma Bar Ass'n v. Cooley, [3] the Court explained State ex rel. Oklahoma Bar Ass'n v. Armstrong, [4] and this Court's recognition that a felony conviction for driving under the influence does not, by itself, facially demonstrate unfitness to practice law. [5] However, a pattern of repeated offenses, even ones of minor significance when considered separately, can indicate indifference to legal obligation. [6]

         ¶5 This Court has addressed a lawyer's professional discipline for misconduct involving alcohol, including alcohol-related driving offenses, in a handful of cases. [7] Respondent's misdemeanor alcohol-related conviction was followed by a felony alcohol-related charge less than two years later. Pursuant to Rule 7.2 of the Rules Governing Disciplinary Proceedings, Respondent's two convictions constitute conclusive evidence of the commission of crimes that may serve as the basis for professional discipline. [8] The record before us is sufficient to show professional discipline is warranted.

         ¶6 The Court has noted when a lawyer recognizes the adverse effect of his or her substance abuse and cooperates in the treatment for it, discipline may be mitigated. [9] When alcohol-related conduct is a basis for professional discipline the Court is particularly concerned with evidence showing the extent of the lawyer's rehabilitation. [10] The Bar Association states respondent accepted full responsibility for his actions and recognized his unfitness at the time of his conduct. The Bar notes respondent agreed with its request for an interim suspension. The Bar Association also states respondent has successfully completed the drug court program, undertaken "a specific and rigorous program" to address alcohol-related issues during his suspension, and he "makes a strong case for his immediate return to the practice of law." The Bar Association has found no evidence of a present unfitness to practice law.

         ¶7 The goal in professional disciplinary proceedings is not punishment, but to safeguard the interest of the public, of the courts, and of the legal profession. [11] We must also weigh the deterrent effect upon the lawyer and the Bar. [12] Although we utilize prior decisions as a gauge for imposing equal or uniform discipline in order to avoid the vice of disparate treatment given to those being disciplined, each proceeding is unique and discipline must be determined on a case-by case basis. [13]

         ¶8 In State ex rel. Oklahoma Bar Ass'n v. Shahan, supra, respondent pled guilty and no contest to the misdemeanor crimes of public intoxication, driving under the influence, and leaving scene of collision involving property damage. This Court issued an order of immediate interim suspension, and for final discipline the Court ...


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