327 S.E.2d 671 (W.Va. 1984), 16368, Committee on Legal Ethics of West Virginia State Bar v. Blair

Docket Nº:16368.
Citation:327 S.E.2d 671, 174 W.Va. 494
Opinion Judge:NEELY, Justice:
Party Name:COMMITTEE on LEGAL ETHICS OF the WEST VIRGINIA STATE BAR v. Walter Lloyd BLAIR.
Attorney:Robert H. Davis, Jr., and John A. Rogers, West Virginia State Bar, Charleston, for complainant. Steven M. Askin, Askin, Pill, Scales & Burke, Martinsburg, for respondent.
Case Date:October 17, 1984
Court:Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia

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327 S.E.2d 671 (W.Va. 1984)

174 W.Va. 494

COMMITTEE on LEGAL ETHICS OF the WEST VIRGINIA STATE BAR

v.

Walter Lloyd BLAIR.

No. 16368.

Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia.

October 17, 1984

Rehearing Denied Nov. 13, 1984.

Syllabus by the Court

1. "In an attorney disciplinary proceeding based on a complaint charging professional misconduct and prosecuted by the Committee on Legal Ethics of the West Virginia State Bar for publicly reprimanding the attorney and for suspending the license of the attorney to practice law, the burden is on the committee to prove the charges contained in the complaint by full, clear and preponderating evidence." Syl.Pt. 2 of Committee on Legal Ethics v. Daniel, 160 W.Va. 388, 235 S.E.2d 369 (1977).

2. A West Virginia lawyer, admitted pro hac vice to the Bar of another state, remains subject to the West Virginia State Bar's jurisdiction.

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3. This Court is the final arbiter of legal ethics problems and must make the [174 W.Va. 495] ultimate decisions about public reprimands, suspensions or annulments of attorneys' licenses to practice law.

Robert H. Davis, Jr., and John A. Rogers, West Virginia State Bar, Charleston, for complainant.

Steven M. Askin, Askin, Pill, Scales & Burke, Martinsburg, for respondent.

NEELY, Justice:

The Committee on Legal Ethics of the West Virginia State Bar has petitioned this Court to suspend Walter Lloyd Blair from the practice of law for one year. Disciplinary action is sought on two counts. First, the Committee found that Mr. Blair attempted to obstruct justice by suggesting to a witness that she not appear at trial. Second, the Committee found that Mr. Blair failed to assist counsel who replaced Mr. Blair after Mr. Blair withdrew from a case.

This Court, upon review of the record, finds Mr. Blair guilty of obstructing justice in violation of DR 1-102(A)(3)-(6) and DR 7-109(A) and (B) of the Code of Professional Responsibility of the West Virginia State Bar. However, we find that the Committee has not met the burden of proof concerning the charge of failure to assist successor counsel. For reasons that we will set forth below, we have decided to reduce the time of Mr. Blair's suspension from the recommended year to a period of six months, but in addition to that suspension, we order that Mr. Blair be confined to the practice of law in the State of West Virginia under the supervision of a lawyer acceptable to the West Virginia State Bar for a period of three years after his reinstatement.

I

Walter Lloyd Blair is a West Virginia lawyer whose office is in Charles Town, West Virginia, but who lives in Montgomery County, Maryland. Although Mr. Blair is not a member of the Maryland Bar, on numerous occasions he has appeared in Maryland courts pro hac vice. Indeed the difficulties into which Mr. Blair has so tragically cast himself derive from his representations to his Maryland neighbors that he is "their neighborhood attorney" or, on at least one occasion, a partner in a Baltimore law firm!

One of Mr. Blair's Montgomery County neighbors, Mrs. Mary Chambers, the complainant, retained Mr. Blair in July of 1980 to represent her daughter, Kimberly, in a juvenile matter. Cumulatively, Mrs. Chambers paid Mr. Blair $800 in connection with the representation of her daughter. Mr. Blair withdrew as Kimberly's counsel eight months later, a few days before Kimberly's trial.

In December 1980, Mrs. Chambers was subpoenaed to testify about a child abuse incident involving a family named Chung who lived opposite her. The hearing was scheduled for 9 February 1981 and Mrs. Chambers was a witness for the prosecution. As it turned out, Mr. Blair was counsel for Mr. Chung, the defendant.

On 6 February 1981, the weekend before the child abuse hearing, Mrs. Chambers called Mr. Blair from her Washington, D.C. office. Mrs. Chambers did not telephone Mr. Blair for any reason connected with the Chung prosecution, but rather because she had been informed that Mr. Blair had made indiscreet inquiries of their mutual neighbors concerning her daughter, Kimberly's, chastity. In the course of this conversation, made in the presence of two of her fellow employees, Mrs. Chambers learned that Mr. Blair was representing Mr. Chung. She was then advised by Mr. Blair to feign illness and absent herself from court on the day of the abuse hearing. This, Mr. Blair assured her, would assuage her conscience because otherwise she would blame herself later if neighbor Chung were imprisoned, leaving his family fatherless. Mr. Blair stated, however, that he couldn't tell her what to do since as a lawyer it was incumbent on him to be "cautious." Two witnesses testified to this conversation,

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and one of them corroborated Mrs. Chambers' final response: "Blair, I'll be there, I won't be sick on Monday."

[174 W.Va. 496] Infuriated and somewhat shaken by her attorney's suggestions, Mrs. Chambers telephoned the victim witness coordinator for the state's attorney in Montgomery County, Maryland, who relayed the tone and substance of her call to the assistant state's attorney for Montgomery County, Ms. Janet Webb. Ms. Webb contacted Mrs. Chambers and convinced her to testify against Mr. Chung. Mrs. Chambers was the State's only witness.

On 17 February 1980, respondent Blair petitioned to withdraw as counsel for Kimberly Chambers, stating that Mrs. Chambers had wrongfully accused him of attempting to obstruct justice. The motion was granted and Mrs. Chambers obtained the services of Mr. Vincent Butler to represent her daughter in the pending juvenile case--now only eight days from trial. Mrs. Chambers contacted Mr. Blair, at Mr. Butler's request, to obtain her daughter's file. Although Mr. Blair agreed to relinquish Kimberly's file, no material was ever received by Mr. Butler. The juvenile court found Kimberly guilty of the charges and put her on probation in her mother's custody.

In March 1981, Mrs. Chambers lodged her complaints (obstruction of justice and failure to assist successor counsel) against Mr. Blair with both the Maryland and West Virginia State Bars. Mr. Blair argues at great length in his...

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