Sandbach, Matter of

Decision Date14 June 1988
PartiesIn the Matter of G. Thomas SANDBACH, Esquire, A Member of the Bar of the Supreme Court of Delaware. . Submitted:
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Delaware

Lawrence M. Sullivan (argued), Wilmington, for G. Thomas Sandbach.

L. Susan Faw (argued), Disciplinary Counsel for the Bd. on Professional Responsibility, Wilmington.



The Board on Professional Responsibility (the "Board") has recommended that disciplinary action be taken against G. Thomas Sandbach ("Respondent"), a member of the Bar of the Supreme Court of the State of Delaware. The Board's recommendation for disciplinary action relates to Respondent's willful failure to make and timely file Delaware Personal Income Tax Returns for five years. The operative facts and findings in this matter are not in dispute. The differences concern the appropriate sanction.


Pursuant to 30 Del.C. § 1161(1), and for all relevant time periods, Respondent, a resident of the State of Delaware, was a person required to file a Delaware Personal Income Tax Return. In October 1986, Respondent was notified by the Division of Revenue (the "Division") that it had not received tax returns from Respondent for the calendar years 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, and 1985. The total amount of taxes, interest, and penalties due and owing by Respondent to the State of Delaware was later determined to be approximately $7,000.00. Respondent did not dispute the Division's findings and paid the calculated deficiency upon being so notified by the Division.

Shortly thereafter, following an investigation by the Attorney General, criminal charges were filed against Respondent for violation of 30 Del.C. § 1233 1 (willful failure to pay personal income tax or estimated tax) by a person required to do so under 30 Del.C. § 1161(1). 2 In February 1987 Respondent entered a guilty plea in Superior Court to violation of section 1233 (an unclassified misdemeanor) for one of the five years noted and Respondent was fined $2,000.


In April 1987, Disciplinary Counsel of the Board on Professional Responsibility filed with the Board a Petition to discipline Respondent based upon the five separate violations of 30 Del.C. § 1233 through his willful failure to make and file Delaware personal income tax returns for the years 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, and 1985. The Petition charged that each of the statutory violations constituted a violation of Rule 8.4(b) of the Delaware Lawyers' Rules of Professional Conduct. 3 Four months later, Respondent through counsel answered the Petition, admitting all allegations of fact and conclusions of law. A panel of the Board held a formal evidentiary hearing shortly thereafter in August 1987.

On February 4, 1988, the Board filed with this Court its Final Report containing the required findings and recommendations and statement of mitigating and aggravating circumstances to be considered in determining the discipline to be imposed. Bd.Prof.Resp.R. 8(c); 9(d). The Board found by clear and convincing evidence that Respondent had "engaged in the course of conduct" of "willfully failing to make and timely file Delaware Personal Income Tax Returns during calendar years 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983 and 1985" in violation of Rule 8.4(b) of the Rules of Professional Conduct. However, the Board has recommended as an appropriate sanction Respondent's suspension from the practice of law for one year, following by a two year term of probation on condition that Respondent perform a program of community service, hereafter referred to. The Board found the mitigating circumstances (Respondent's full cooperation with the State authorities and Disciplinary Counsel, together with his ready admission of guilt and contriteness) to outweigh the aggravating circumstances of willful criminal conduct that would otherwise warrant "severe sanctions."


On review before this Court, Respondent does not contest the Board's findings of fact, conclusions as to his violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct, or its recommendation of sanctions, with one limited exception. While Respondent does not object to the requirement of performing community service (initially his suggestion), he objects to being required to perform any service that would subject him to "further unnecessary public embarrassment and humiliation." 4

After due consideration of the Board's recommendations, the Court concludes that a more serious sanction is warranted by Respondent's admittedly willful course of criminal conduct for an extended period of years. The Court views the relied upon mitigating circumstances as entitled to somewhat less weight than the Board has accorded them. Although Respondent has fully cooperated with State authorities and the Board, such cooperation only followed Respondent's receiving notification by the Division that it had not received various tax returns. Respondent did not initiate proceedings to rectify his unlawful conduct, nor did he admit his failure to file State income tax returns prior to the Division's discovery of the violations. The Board has correctly stated:

It has long been the rule in Delaware that any Member of the Bar who fails or refuses to perform his duties as a citizen may breach his standards of professional ethics so as to require disciplinary action. A lawyer who disregards his duty as a citizen by failing to pay income taxes fails to uphold the standards of his profession, irrespective of any conviction. See Bennethum v. Superior Court, Del.Supr., 153 A.2d 200 (1959), and In Re Bennethum, Del.Supr., 161 A.2d 299 (1960).

The Court cannot overlook the repetitive nature of Respondent's willful breach of a citizen's minimal duty to pay taxes. It must also be noted that Respondent, over the years in question, apparently filed his federal income tax returns yet attempted to evade the requirements of State income tax law.

Having weighed all the pertinent factors, the Court concludes...

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18 cases
  • Brewster, Matter of
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Delaware
    • February 5, 1991
    ...discipline for criminal conduct not arising directly from the practice of law. Matter of Christie, 574 A.2d at 851; Matter of Sandbach, Del.Supr., 546 A.2d 345 (1988); and In Re Sanders, Del.Supr., 498 A.2d 148 (1985). In that regard, the commentary to 5.11 of the ABA Standards for Imposing......
  • Christie, Matter of
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Delaware
    • January 23, 1990 engaging in criminal conduct, has resulted in the imposition of serious disciplinary sanctions by this Court. See Matter of Sandbach, Del.Supr., 546 A.2d 345 (1988) (wilful failure to file income tax returns for five years resulted in three year suspension, provided that respondent could......
  • Tos, Matter of
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Delaware
    • July 7, 1992
    ...turpitude within the interpretive Guideline No. 3 to Rule 8.4(b). In re Sanders, Del.Supr., 498 A.2d 148, 150 (1985); In re Sandbach, Del.Supr., 546 A.2d 345, 347 (1988). III This Court's scope of review with regard to the Board's factual findings is to determine whether the record contains......
  • Committee on Legal Ethics of West Virginia State Bar v. Mitchell
    • United States
    • West Virginia Supreme Court
    • May 15, 1992
    ...that the service was recommended by the Discipline Review Board and that the service would be a public benefit. In Matter of Sandbach, --- Del.Supr. ----, 546 A.2d 345 (1988), the Delaware Supreme Court allowed the third year of a suspension to be relieved provided the lawyer had, within th......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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