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In re Sims

March 11, 2004

IN RE NATHANIEL SIMS, RESPONDENT. A MEMBER OF THE BAR OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA COURT OF APPEALS ON REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION OF THE BOARD ON PROFESSIONAL RESPONSIBILITY (BDN-377-98)


Before Terry and Reid, Associate Judges, and King, Senior Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reid, Associate Judge

Argued April 16, 2003

The Board on Professional Responsibility ("the Board" or "BPR") recommends that Respondent Nathaniel Sims be disbarred based on a misdemeanor conflict of interest conviction which it concludes "involves moral turpitude on the facts," and because of violations of Rules 8.4 (b), (c), and (d) of the District of Columbia Rules of Professional Conduct. Mr. Sims filed an "exception to the conclusions of law and recommended sanction" of the Board. We hold that in the case of a misdemeanor conflict of interest, a non-serious crime, the Board may determine whether or not that offense involves moral turpitude on the facts. We also set forth legal principles to guide the moral turpitude inquiry in this case. Since neither the Hearing Committee nor the Board has had an opportunity to make the moral turpitude inquiry under the legal principles set forth in this opinion, we remand this matter to the Board with instructions to remand it to the Hearing Committee for a determination as to whether or not Mr. Sims was convicted of an offense involving moral turpitude on the facts. Thereafter, the Board shall submit a revised report and recommendation to this court.

FACTUAL SUMMARY

The record before us shows that beginning around February 1997, the FBI launched an investigation into allegations of impropriety by Mr. Sims. At the time, Mr. Sims was a hearing examiner in the Bureau of Traffic Adjudication ("BTA") at the District of Columbia Department of Public Works.*fn1 Two FBI agents interviewed then current and former staff at the BTA, the project manager for the computerized Ticket Information Management System ("TIMS") used to keep track of the issuance and disposition of traffic tickets, and Mr. Sims. An unsigned March 24, 1997 report of the two FBI Agents stated, in part:

The Acting Chief [of the BTA] with the assistance of the TIMS Project Manager for Ticket Processing, Lockheed Martin, the contractor who maintains the TIMS data base for the District, provided hard copies of a total of $1,280.00 in reductions and suspensions made between March 6, 1996 and February 4, 1997, for [Mr. Sims] and his wife and daughter's tickets. (3) tickets were dismissed and 2 points were suspended for his wife . . . and (1) ticket was dismissed for his daughter . . . . (18) tickets were dismissed for [Mr. Sims]. All the entries in TIMS on the (22) tickets reflected [Mr. Sims'] identification code and the [h]earing [o]fficer codes of either [Mr. Sims] or other [h]earing [o]fficers.

Later, on April 15, 1998, the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia sent Mr. Sims' attorney a proposed plea agreement. Paragraph (1) of that agreement specified that:

Mr. Sims agrees to plead guilty to a one-count Information charging violations of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 208 and 216 (a) (1) (Conflict of Interest - misdemeanor). It is understood that the guilty plea will be based on a factual admission of guilt to the offense charged to be made before the [c]court by Mr. Sims and will be entered in accordance with Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure.

In Paragraph (7), "[t]he government reserve[d] the right to set forth at sentencing all of its evidence with respect to Mr. Sims' criminal activities . . . ." Mr. Sims and his counsel signed the plea agreement on April 20, 1998.

On that date, Mr. Sims entered a plea of guilty to a one count violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 208 and 216 (a)(1) before a United States Magistrate Judge in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. The Information to which he pled guilty stated:

1. At all times material herein:

(a) the defendant [Mr. Sims] was employed as a [h]earing [e]xaminer by the [BTA];

(b) a [h]earing [e]xaminer's duties included adjudicating notices of infraction (tickets) which had been issued concerning motor vehicles;

(c) a [h]earing [e]xaminer is required to document the decision made during an in-person hearing by completing a [h]earing [r]ecord and by entering the disposition into the BTA Ticket Information Management System;

(d) a [h]earing [e]xaminer is precluded by BTA regulations from adjudicating tickets which had been issued to him and/or members of his family.

CONFLICT OF INTEREST

2. On or about December 9, 1996, within the District of Columbia, the defendant [Mr. Sims], being an employee of the Government of the District of Columbia, participated personally and substantially as a government employee, through decision in a request for a ruling or other determination, in a matter in which he knew he had a financial interest; that is, the defendant [Mr. Sims] dismissed ticket number 202711902 which had been issued on December 9, 1996 by an employee of the Department of Public Works on the car leased by the defendant [Mr. Sims] thereby releasing the defendant [Mr. Sims] from his obligation to pay the $50 fine.

During the plea hearing, the prosecutor summarized the government's evidence related to the offense charged in the Information, and added that:

The evidence would further have shown that between October 26 of 1995 and February 4 of 1997, [Mr. Sims]th adjudicated 19 other tickets which affected him or his family and resulted in a suspension of fines and ...


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