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In re Brown

March 25, 2004


On Report and Recommendation of the Board on Professional Responsibility (BDN406-99)

Before Schwelb and Ruiz, Associate Judges, and Kern, Senior Judge.

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

Submitted March 4, 2004

On November 8, 1993, this court indefinitely suspended Timothy Brown, a member of our Bar, from the practice of law in the District of Columbia on account of disability, that disability having resulted from Brown's long-term abuse of alcohol, marijuana and cocaine.*fn1 See D.C. Bar R. XI, § 13 (e). The suspension was imposed at Brown's request. At the time of Brown's suspension, several serious disciplinary charges were pending against him. *fn2

On November 16, 1999, Brown filed a petition for reinstatement pursuant to Section 13 (g), asserting that he had fully recovered from his substance abuse. On January 9, 2002, a Hearing Committee issued a Report and Recommendation in which it found, by clear and convincing evidence (as Section 13 (g) requires), that Brown's disability had ended. The Committee also found that Brown had demonstrated his legal competence and that he had the necessary moral character to resume the practice of law.

Bar Counsel excepted to the Hearing Committee's recommendation. On July 31, 2003, in a comprehensive Report and Recommendation, the Board on Professional Responsibility (BPR or Board) adopted the Hearing Committee's findings and concluded that Brown's petition for reinstatement should be granted upon certain specified conditions set forth below. Neither Brown nor Bar Counsel excepted to the Board's recommendation.

"Before an attorney is reinstated, . . . this court must be independently satisfied that the criteria for reinstatement have been met." In re Roundtree, 503 A.2d 1215, 1217 (D.C. 1985). Nevertheless, "[t]he BPR's findings and recommendations are, of course, entitled to great weight." Id. (citations omitted). The weight that we accord to the Board's recommendation is even greater where, as here, neither Bar counsel nor Brown has excepted to it. Cf. In re Goldsborough, 654 A.2d 1285, 1288 (D.C. 1995).

In this case, the Board's recommendation, which reaffirmed a similar recommendation by the Hearing Committee, is supported by the record. Brown presented expert evidence, as well as affidavits and letters from distinguished members of the Bar, showing that Brown's addictions are "In Sustained Full Remission." One expert opined that "the success of [Brown's] recovery could hardly be better documented." There was likewise clear and convincing evidence that Brown had maintained the requisite competence to practice law.

The record does contain material which is less than favorable to Brown. At the time he filed his petition, he owed substantial amounts in taxes and in child support, and he was in arrears in restitution payments owed to the Client Security Fund. The Hearing Committee and the Board also found that in completing his reinstatement questionnaire, Brown had omitted significant material information,*fn3 and that, in addition, he had failed to disclose a major asset to the Client Security Fund.*fn4 Nevertheless, in light of the evidence contained in the character references presented by Brown*fn5 to show his good moral character,*fn6 the Board, like the Hearing Committee, declined to find "a flaw in [Brown's] character" based on his failure, while unemployed or under-employed, to meet his financial obligations, concluding that Brown had "demonstrated that he recognized his debts and has begun the effort to satisfy each of them." The Board and the Hearing Committee also found that Brown's omissions from the questionnaire were "not the result of an effort to mislead or conceal," and that there was no intent on Brown's part to mislead the Client Security Fund. These findings were based on the assessment of Brown's credibility by the Hearing Committee, which heard him testify, and we are reluctant to second-guess the Committee's assessment on the basis of a paper record alone. See In re Shillaire, 597 A.2d 913, 916 (D.C. 1991).

Accordingly, in conformity with the Board's recommendation, we grant Brown's petition for reinstatement upon the following conditions (all recommended by the Board):

1. Brown shall continue his consultation with the District of Columbia Bar's Lawyers Counseling Program, as well as his participation in Alcoholics Anonymous, for a period of at least three years after reinstatement, and he shall report to Bar Counsel and the Board concerning those consultations, on a schedule to be set by the Board, every six months.

2. Brown shall be under the supervision of a financial monitor, who is to be appointed by the Board, for one year following Brown's reinstatement. Brown shall meet with the monitor every three months, on a schedule to be set by the monitor, in order to formulate and execute a plan to meet Brown's financial obligations (both past due and current), including, inter alia, money owed to the Client Security Fund, and money owed for child support and back taxes. The monitor shall submit quarterly reports to the Board and to Bar Counsel detailing Brown's progress.

3. Within one year of his reinstatement, Brown shall complete District of Columbia Bar Continuing Legal Education courses in civil litigation, probate and estate, and business organization.*fn7 Within the same time period, Brown shall also complete a course in legal ethics and a course in law practice management.

In light of our decision reinstating Brown, Bar Counsel shall forthwith reactivate Bar Docket Nos. 273-91, 114-92 and 140-92.*fn8 In addition, Bar Counsel shall, within sixty days of the date of this opinion, advise the Board regarding her views as to what, if any, action should be taken in Bar Docket ...

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