Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert blog which will discuss recent West Virginia Appeals Court opinion disbarring a lawyer for beating a defenseless client with a baseball bat. The case is Lawyer Disciplinary Bd. v. Joshua Robinson, W. Va., No. 35549 (10/25/12). The opinion is at: http://op.bna.com/mopc.nsf/id/kswn-8znlbs/$File/35549.pdf.
The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals annulled the license of a lawyer who beat a client with a wooden baseball bat on his front porch, chased him down the street until he fell, and resumed the beating as the client lay defenseless on the ground. According to the opinion, the lawyer “beat a client, David L. Gump, with a wooden baseball bat on his front porch and then chased his defenseless client with this weapon down a residential street until he fell to the ground. When Mr. Gump fell down, Mr. Robinson began beating him again with the baseball bat in the head, chest, and back.” The client suffered “significant injuries” and the lawyer initially lied to the police and prosecutors; however, he ultimately pleaded guilty to a felony charge of unlawful wounding.
The lawyer claimed that the client was a drug addict who showed up at his house to demand money for drugs and broke the window panes on his door and that he grabbed the baseball bat to defend himself and to push the client out of his house. The hearing panel rejected the lawyer’s story and found that the lawyer violated Kentucky Rules of Professional Conduct 8.4(b) (criminal act reflecting adversely on lawyer’s fitness) and 8.4(c) (conduct involving dishonesty). As an aggravating factor, the hearing panel found that the lawyer’s assault on the client continued a long history of criminal behavior that began in 1995, when he was convicted of assault and public drunkenness, which was before his admission to the West Virginia Bar. The hearing panel also found aggravating factors of lack of remorse; lack of full disclosure; conversion of settlement funds belonging to the client ‘s grandfather; and a pattern of failing to follow court orders and stated that the beating “also injured the public by lessening people’s faith and confidence in the legal profession.
The opinion upheld those findings, emphasizing that the panel “listened to hours of testimony and reviewed voluminous documents that clearly established Mr. Robinson’s culpability in this crime.” The opinion stated that it was obvious that the lawyer intentionally violated his duties to his client, the public, the legal system, and the legal profession. “Mr. Gump was seriously injured when Mr. Robinson repeatedly beat him with a wooden baseball bat and then continued to beat him as he lay defenseless on the ground.” In addition, “(his) conduct brought physical injury to his client and also injured the public by lessening people’s faith and confidence in the legal profession.”
The opinion also rejected the lawyer’s argument that his lack of a prior disciplinary record should be considered a mitigating factor and pointed out that while the hearing panel was evaluating the appropriate sanction, the lawyer was also facing disciplinary charges in Kentucky which resulted from the lawyer’s guilty pleas to two counts of “wanton endangerment” growing out of a violent altercation in which he allegedly threw a propane tank through the windshield of his wife’s vehicle as she was attempting to exit the driveway of their home with a child.
The opinion agreed with the disciplinary board that the lawyer’s license should be annulled and, before he petitions for reinstatement, the lawyer must undergo a comprehensive examination by a psychiatrist, comply with any recommended treatment, and complete an extensive course in anger management. His practice will be also supervised for two years after his reinstatement.
Bottom line: I am not making this up, I promise….I guess the takeaway is that lawyers shouldn’t beat their clients with a baseball bat or throw a propane tank through the windshield of a spouse’s vehicle.
Be careful out there!
Disclaimer: this e-mail does not contain any legal advice and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.
Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire
Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.
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Clearwater, Florida 33759
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