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In re Tucker

District of Columbia Court of Appeals


June 29, 2000

IN RE RONALD E. TUCKER, RESPONDENT.

Before Ruiz and Washington, Associate Judges, and Gallagher, Senior Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Per Curiam

A Member of the Bar of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals On Report and Recommendation of the Board on Professional Responsibility

Argued February 2, 2000

The Board on Professional Responsibility (the "Board") recommended that respondent, Ronald E. Tucker, be disbarred for a conviction of a crime of moral turpitude. Tucker filed an exception to the Board's Report and Recommendation challenging whether the Board's determination that his conduct involved moral turpitude is supported by substantial evidence in the record. We adopt the recommendation of the Board that Tucker be disbarred.

I.

On September 16, 1994, Tucker entered a plea of guilty in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia to one count of attempted bribery, a misdemeanor. The bribery charges against Tucker arose from his admitted conduct in paying Ron Morris, an employee of the District of Columbia Bureau of Traffic Adjudication ("BTA"), to "fix" certain parking tickets so that they would not have to be paid. *fn1

On October 17, 1994, this court entered an order suspending Tucker from practice pending the determination of the appropriate discipline. Tucker was ordered to file a D.C. Bar R. XI, § 14 (g) affidavit within ten days of the order but failed to do so. On April 18, 1995, the Board determined that while the crime of bribery is an offense involving moral turpitude per se, *fn2 misdemeanor offenses are never crimes of moral turpitude per se. See In re McBride, 602 A.2d 626, 632 (D.C. 1992) (en banc). Therefore, the Board determined that the crime was not one involving moral turpitude per se and referred the matter to a Hearing Committee for a determination of moral turpitude on the facts and what final discipline is appropriate in light of Tucker's conviction of a "serious crime" within the meaning of D.C. Bar R. XI, § 10 (b).

On April 24, 1995, Bar Counsel filed a petition charging Tucker with violations of the District of Columbia Rules of Professional Conduct: Rule 3.5 (a) (seeking to influence judge or other official); Rule 8.4 (a) (violating or attempting to violate Rules); Rule 8.4 (b) (committing a criminal act; engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation); and Rule 8.4 (d) (engaging in conduct that seriously interferes with administration of justice). Bar Counsel also charged a violation of D.C. Code § 11-2503 (a) (1995) (moral turpitude) and requested discipline based upon this court's finding of a serious crime pursuant to D.C. Bar R. XI, § 10 (b).

Bar Counsel filed a motion to obtain records of the FBI and to produce an FBI agent to testify at the hearing. On February 23, 1996, Tucker filed an incomplete affidavit as an attachment to a motion for reinstatement before this court. On March 7, 1996, this court denied Tucker's motion. On February 27, 1997, this court granted Bar Counsel's motion to elicit the FBI's evidence. *fn3 On June 3, 1997, an evidentiary hearing, at which Tucker did not testify, was held before the Hearing Committee.

On April 2, 1998, Hearing Committee Four ("Hearing Committee") issued its report, finding that the evidence presented by Bar Counsel clearly and convincingly showed that Tucker's conduct involved moral turpitude on the facts because the totality of facts surrounding his conduct involved sufficient intentional dishonesty for the purpose of personal gain. Tucker noted an exception to the Hearing Committee's report.

On November 12, 1998, the Board ordered Tucker to file a supplemental section 14 (g) affidavit if he wished the Board to consider it along with his exception to the Hearing Committee's report. On December 18, 1998, Tucker filed a supplemental affidavit. On January 4, 1999, the Board adopted the factual findings of the Hearing Committee and agreed with it that Tucker's conduct involved moral turpitude on the facts on the basis that Tucker's actions involved intentional dishonesty for personal gain. The Board, in reaching its conclusion, found that Tucker's misconduct was extremely serious despite the small amount of money involved. According to the Board, Tucker's offense was "so at odds with his responsibility as a citizen and member of the bar that it deeply offended the general moral sense of right and wrong." Therefore, the Board recommended his disbarrment, nunc pro tunc to December 18, 1998. Tucker took exception to the Board's recommendation.

II.

Tucker contends that the Board's determination that his conduct

involved moral turpitude is not supported by substantial evidence in the record. When reviewing a recommended disciplinary sanction against an attorney, we accept the Board's findings of fact in the report if they are supported by substantial evidence in the record. See D.C. Bar R. XI, § 9 (g)(1); In re Clarke, 684 A.2d 1276, 1280 (D.C. 1996). Further, we will adopt the Board's recommended sanction "unless to do so would foster a tendency toward inconsistent dispositions for comparable conduct or would otherwise be unwarranted." *fn4 D.C. Bar R. XI, § 9(g)(1); see, e.g., In re Sneed, 673 A.2d 591, 593 (D.C. 1996); In re Steele, 630 A.2d 196, 199 (D.C. 1993). However, "[w]e review de novo any Board determination of moral turpitude, since `the ultimate issue of moral turpitude is one of law rather than of fact.'" Kerr, supra note 4, 611 A.2d at 553 (quoting Shillaire, supra note 4, 549 A.2d at 343).

An attorney convicted of a misdemeanor is entitled to a hearing to "consider the circumstances of the transgression," and thus to determine whether that crime, on its particular facts, involved moral turpitude. McBride, 602 A.2d at 635 (quoting In re Colson, 412 A.2d 1160, 1165 (D.C. 1979) (en banc)). We have defined moral turpitude as an act that:

(1) `offends the generally accepted moral code of mankind,' (2) is one `of baseness, vileness, or depravity in the private and social duties which a man owes to his fellow men or to society in general, contrary to the accepted and customary rule of rights and duty between man and man;' or (3) is `[c]onduct contrary to justice, honesty, modesty, or good morals.' In re Robbins, 678 A.2d 37, 38-39 n.1 (D.C. 1996) (quoting Colson, 412 A.2d at 1168). We have further noted that "[a]s the term is applied in our disciplinary cases, moral turpitude has been held to include acts of intentional dishonesty for personal gain." Sneed, 673 A.2d at 594 (citing In re Untalan, 619 A.2d 978, 979 (D.C. 1993); In re Shorter, 570 A.2d 760, 765 (D.C. 1990); In re Kent, 467 A.2d 982, 984 (D.C. 1983)). As we previously noted, "if the crime at issue is a misdemeanor, we must look beyond its statutory definition to the underlying facts; `we cannot find moral turpitude merely by reference to the elements of [the criminal statute].'" Id. (quoting McBride, 602 A.2d at 635).

In this case, the acts of Tucker which led to his misdemeanor conviction warrant a finding of moral turpitude because they involved intentional dishonesty for personal gain. Tucker admitted that he paid Morris, a clerk at the BTA, money on a number of occasions to "fix" parking tickets for him. At the time of his conduct, Tucker knew that such transactions were illegal. The Board noted that even though the amounts of money involved may have been small, the conduct goes to the "heart of integrity of the judicial and governmental system an attorney is obliged to uphold." The Board also adopted the Hearing Committee's finding that Tucker's offense was committed for personal gain. Tucker admitted that he typically paid Morris one-third to one-half of the amount actually owed on the ticket. Furthermore, Tucker was given the opportunity to present evidence in mitigation but failed to present anything exceptional enough to warrant a conclusion that his offense did not involve moral turpitude. Therefore, because there is substantial evidence in this case to support a finding of moral turpitude, we adopt the report and recommendation of the Board.

Accordingly, it is ORDERED that respondent, Ronald E. Tucker, is disbarred from the practice of law in the District of Columbia, pursuant to D.C. Code § 11-2503 (a), nunc pro tunc to December 18, 1998. *fn5

So ordered.


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