On Report and Recommendation of the Board on Professional Responsibility (BDN 403-99)
Before Terry and Steadman, Associate Judges, and Pryor, Senior Judge.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Terry, Associate Judge
Respondent Tidwell is a member of the District of Columbia Bar and has also been admitted to practice in New York, Virginia, the United States District Court for the Western District of New York, and the United States Supreme Court. He became the subject of disciplinary proceedings in the state of New York after he entered a plea of guilty on September 3, 1999, to a charge of leaving the scene of a fatal automobile accident without reporting it. *fn1 After receiving notice of Mr. Tidwell's conviction and subsequent disbarrment in New York, this court ordered that he be temporarily suspended from the practice of law in the District of Colum bia pursuant to D.C. Bar Rule XI, § 10 (c).
We then directed our Board on Professional Responsibility ("the Board") to institute disciplinary proceedings and, in particular, to determine whether the offense of which Mr. Tidwell was convicted in New York involved moral turpitude per se. We also ordered the Office of Bar Counsel to state its views concerning the appropriate disciplinary sanction. With respect to whether the crime involved moral turpitude per se, Bar Counsel concluded that the issue was "unclear" and recommended that a hearing be held on the question of whether the crime involved moral turpitude on its specific facts.
The Board ruled that the crim e did not involve moral turpitude per se and referred the matter to a hearing committee to determine whether a finding of moral turpitude could be based on the facts and circumstances surrounding the offense. See D.C. Code § 11-2503 (a) (2001). Before the hearing committee considered the matter, Bar Counsel filed a formal petition asserting that Mr. Tidwell's conviction involved moral turpitude on its facts and that his actions also violated Rule 8.4 (b) of the District of Columbia Rules of Professional Conduct. *fn2 After an evidentiary hearing, the hearing committee ruled, inter alia, that the facts underlying Mr. Tidwell's conviction warranted a finding of moral turpitude and recommended his disbarrment. Bar Counsel did not contest the hearing committee's decision, but Mr. Tidwell appeared before the Board and orally argued his exceptions.
In July 2002 the Board issued its report and recommended Mr. Tidwell's disbarrment. Mr. Tidwell filed written exceptions with the court, and Bar Counsel filed a brief in support of the Board. We agree with Bar Counsel and the Board, adopt the Board's recommendation, and order that Mr. Tidwell be disbarred in the District of Columbia.
Mr. Tidwell was admitted to the District of Columbia Bar in 1978 and continued to practice here until moving to Buffalo, New York, in 1984. Since that time he has lived and maintained a law practice in the state of New York.
Over approximately the last ten years, Mr. Tidwell developed a drinking problem and acknowledged before the hearing committee that he was an alcoholic. His record of alcohol abuse includes an arrest on October 6, 1995, for driving w hile intoxicated. *fn3 Several months later, M r. Tidwell voluntarily admitted himself into an alcohol treatment center in Buffalo. Even after that treatment, however, Mr. Tidwell's drinking was not under control. He testified before the hearing committee that by the time of the incident that led to these proceedings, he had resumed his regular practice of drinking three bourbons every day after work. Mr. Tidwell also admitted suffering from alcohol-related blackouts prior to his 1995 arrest, but not afterwards.
On the evening of August 17, 1999, Mr. Tidwell left work and drove to the Audubon Room, a bar near the University of Buffalo where he was a frequent customer. While there, from about 7:30 p.m. to a little after 9:00 p.m., Mr. Tidwell paid for three glasses of Maker's Mark whiskey. At the hearing he testified that he consumed the three drinks straight, over ice, and that he had not eaten anything that day since lunch, about five hours earlier. Shortly after 9:00 p.m. Mr. Tidwell left the Audubon Room to go home. While driving home in his Mercury Mystique, he traveled on Getzville Road, a two-lane street that was later described by police as well-lit. At the same time, Donald Fruehauf, a heavy-set 68-year-old auto mechanic, was riding his bicycle on the same road. Mr. Fruehauf was known to ride his bicycle on the neighborhood streets the night before the trash was collected, looking for discarded items that he could possibly repair. The trash on Getzville Road was scheduled to be picked up the following morning.
At about 9:30 p.m. Mr. Tidwell's Mercury Mystique struck Mr. Fruehauf's bicycle from the rear. *fn4 As a result of the collision, Mr. Fruehauf was thrown into the air and struck the windshield on the right side of Mr. Tidwell's car. The impact shattered the windshield. The collision also dented portions of the bumper, scratched the hood, and broke off a portio n of the turn sign al lens. A few moments later, a passing motorist found Mr. Fruehauf lying in the road with blood coming from his ears; his bicycle was on top of him. After someone called 911, Mr. Fruehauf was taken to a nearby hospital, where he died later that night as a result of severe head injuries.
After hitting Mr. Fruehauf, Mr. Tidwell continued driving home without stopping or calling the police. He initially claimed at the hearing that he had no recollection of the accident, but when questioned later by members of the hearing committee, he admitted that he had panicked after he struck Mr. Fruehauf. *fn5 He also said that he did not im mediately notice the damage to his car upon arriving at home, but discovered it the next day when he went out to the car, intending to drive to work.
Early in the morning of August 18, M r. Tidwell's w ife told him that a fatal accident had occurred the previous night, but he dismissed the idea that he was associated with it because initial police accounts reported that a green minivan was involved. He testified that he thought the damage to his car might have been caused by vandals, *fn6 so he moved the car into the garage and got a ride to work with his wife.
Mr. Tidwell telephoned his attorney, Michael Taheri, the following day, August 19, because of lingering concerns that he might have been involved in the accident on August 17. After a short conversation, however, the two men decided that Tidwell need not worry because the police were looking for a green minivan, and they agreed to talk again in a few days. Then, on his way to work on August 21, Mr. Tidwell heard a news broadcast on the radio stating that law enforcement officers were looking for a M ercury Mystique in connection with the fatal accident on August 17. *fn7
Upon hearing this news, Mr. Tidwell telephoned Mr. Taheri, who decided to come to the Tidwell house and inspect the car, which was still in the garage. After photographing the car, Mr. Taheri contacted an Assistant District Attorney and arranged for the car to be surrendered. As part of his attorney's subsequent negotiations with an Assistant District Attorney, Mr. Tidwell agreed to surrender the car and, in return, to be charged with one count of leaving the scene of an accident resulting in ...