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04/10/92 DAVID G. DULANSEY RESPONDENT

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA COURT OF APPEALS


April 10, 1992

IN RE: DAVID G. DULANSEY, RESPONDENT

A Member of the Bar of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals

Before Steadman, Schwelb and King, Associate Judges

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Per Curiam

On Report and Recommendation of the Board on Professional Responsibility

PER CURIAM: Respondent, David G. Dulansey, challenges on appeal the Board on Professional Responsibility's recommendation that he be disbarred for his intentional misappropriation of client funds, which resulted in violations of DR 9-103(A) (commingling), DR 9-103(A) (misappropriation) and DR 9-102(A)(4) (dishonesty). The Board found that Respondent, while moonlighting as a private practitioner in violation of a policy imposed by his employer's general counsel, settled for $25,000 a personal injury claim that he had taken on a one-fourth contingent fee basis. Respondent deposited the settlement check into his personal checking account. Although respondent reimbursed some of the funds to his client in the ensuing months, he knowingly allowed his bank account balance to drop below the amount he owed to his client. In addition, respondent postdated one of the checks he provided to his client, which was dishonored for insufficient funds. Respondent took approximately four months to comply with his client's subsequent request for full payment, using borrowed funds to do so.

Respondent concedes that his disbarrment would be consistent with In re Addams, 579 A.2d 190 (D.C. 1990) (en banc) and other decisions of this court holding that disbarrment will be the only appropriate sanction in "virtually all cases" involving intentional misappropriation of client funds. Id. at 191; see also, e.g., In re Robinson, 583 A.2d 691 (D.C. 1990). He nonetheless challenges the Board's recommended sanction, primarily *fn1 on the ground that disbarrment would deprive him of equal protection of the laws in violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. U.S. Const. amends. V, XIV. *fn2 Respondent does not allege that the sanction of disbarrment for misappropriation of client funds impinges on a fundamental right or involves a suspect class. Hence, we apply to his claim the traditional rational basis standard of review, under which the challenged classification is "presumed to be valid and will be sustained if . . . is rationally related to a legitimate state interest." Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Center, Inc., 473 U.S. 432, 440, 87 L. Ed. 2d 313 , 105 S. Ct. 3249 (1985); see also Bankers Life & Casualty Co. v. Crenshaw, 486 U.S. 71, 81, 100 L. Ed. 2d 62 , 108 S. Ct. 1645 (1988); New Orleans v. Dukes, 427 U.S. 297, 303, 49 L. Ed. 2d 511 , 96 S. Ct. 2513 (1976) (per curiam). If the state's interest is legitimate, a classification's rational relationship to that interest "is not difficult to establish," Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. v. Ward, 470 U.S. 869, 881, 84 L. Ed. 2d 751 , 105 S. Ct. 1676 (1985), as review is limited to ascertaining "whether any state of facts either known or which could reasonably be assumed affords support for it." Backman v. United States, 516 A.2d 923, 927 (D.C. 1986) (citing United States v. Thorne, 325 A.2d 764, 766 (D.C. 1974) (quoting United States v. Carolene Products Co., 304 U.S. 144, 153, 82 L. Ed. 1234 , 58 S. Ct. 778 (1938))).

Respondent contends that the weighty presumption of disbarrment *fn3 for attorneys who intentionally misappropriate client funds is not rationally related to this jurisdiction's interests in protecting client funds and promoting public confidence in the integrity of the legal profession because attorneys who commit other disciplinary violations involving dishonesty (violations that respondent views as more serious than intentional misappropriation) result in less serious sanctions. In rejecting this disparate treatment argument in Addams (albeit without respondent's constitutional overlay), we stated that:

While we recognize that the sanction for intentional misappropriation of client funds will be harsh in comparison to sanctions for other disciplinary violations involving conduct some may view as roughly equivalent misconduct, our concern is that there not be an erosion of public confidence in the integrity of the bar. Simply put, where client funds are involved, a more stringent rule is appropriate.

Addams, supra, 579 A.2d at 198 (citations omitted).

A clear rational basis exists for this Conclusion that attorneys who knowingly misappropriate client funds stand in a different position than attorneys who commit other acts involving dishonesty. As we also stated in Addams, the intentional misappropriation of client funds "strike at the core of the attorney-client relationship" by undermining the public's faith that attorneys will fulfill their duties as fiduciaries with regard to the host of financial transactions that require a client to entrust funds to his attorney. Id. at 198-99. *fn4 For this reason, "the appearance of a tolerant attitude toward known embezzlers would give the public grave cause for concern and undermine public confidence in the integrity of the profession and of the legal system whose functioning depends on lawyers." *fn5 Id. at 193.

As the Supreme Court stated in rejecting an Equal Protection challenge to a Georgia statute that enhanced the misdemeanor offense of child abandonment to a felony if the parent left the state after committing the offense, "general rules that apply evenhandedly *fn6 to all persons within the jurisdiction unquestionably comply with the principle" of equal protection. Jones v. Helms, 452 U.S. 412, 423, 69 L. Ed. 2d 118 , 101 S. Ct. 2434 (1981) (quoting New York City Transit Auth. v. Beer, 440 U.S. 568, 587 (1979)). See also Collins v. Johnston, 237 U.S. 502, 509-10, 59 L. Ed. 1071 , 35 S. Ct. 649 (1915) (fourteen year sentence for perjury, which was much greater than maximum sentences for arguably more serious crimes, did not violate equal protection as long as sentence imposed did not exceed that authorized by law). This court has rejected similar equal protection challenges to legislative classifications in sentencing provisions. 602 A.2d 117 (prior conviction exclusion for addict exception to mandatory minimum sentencing requirements of Controlled Substances Act not violative of equal protection); Gethers v. United States, 556 A.2d 201, 202 n.1 (D.C. 1989) (mandatory minimum for cocaine offense not violation of equal protection); Backman v. United States, 516 A.2d 923 (D.C. 1986) (rational basis exists for excluding cocaine addicts from exemption from mandatory minimum sentencing requirements of Controlled Substances Act). Because the distinction drawn in Addams similarly has a rational basis, respondent's disbarrment does not deprive him of equal protection of the laws.

Accordingly, it is ORDERED that David G. Dulansey shall be disbarred from the practice of law effective thirty days from the date of this opinion.

So ordered.


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