BEFORE THE VIRGINIA STATE BAR DISCIPLINARY BOARD
In the Matter of
DOUGLAS DOWNES WILSON
VSB Docket No: 03-000-1686
ORDER OF RECOMMENDATION
Douglas Downes Wilson appeared in person and was represented by counsel, James C. Roberts and Russell V. Palmore, Jr. Edward L. Davis, Assistant Bar Counsel, appeared as counsel for the Virginia State Bar. The court reporter was Victoria V. Halasz, RPR, Chandler & Halasz, P. O. Box 9349, Richmond, VA 23227.
Prior to the hearing, the Virginia State Bar provided, pursuant to Virginia Supreme Court Rule Part Six, Section IV, Paragraph 13.I.8.e., notice of the filing of the petition and the date of hearing and an outline of the disciplinary charges pending at the time of petitioner's license surrender to all attorneys residing or practicing in the Roanoke area, to the members of the Eighth District Committee (both former and current) and to the presiding judge and all counsel of record in the criminal case which gave cause for said license surrender and order of revocation and invited comments about petitioner's fitness to practice law. A synopsis of the petition was published in the Virginia Lawyer Register and in a newspaper of general circulation in the Roanoke area. In response to the foregoing, the Bar received numerous letters in favor of the reinstatement petition and two letters in opposition to reinstatement.
In response to the request by Bar counsel, petitioner filed a bill of particulars, providing details pertinent to the grounds of his petition.
At the hearing, the petitioner and the Bar stipulated the admission of all documents submitted to the Board by the clerk by her letter dated June 20, 2003, and four additional letters received by the clerk subsequent to the mailing of her letter. Mr. Wilson presented four witnesses, including the petitioner. The Bar presented one witness.
Petitions for reinstatement are a most difficult assignment for the Board. The Board considered the factors set out in the Matter of Alfred Lee Hiss, VSB Docket #83-26 and dated May 24, 1984, as incorporated in subsection h. to Part Six, Section IV, Paragraph 13.I.8, namely;
1. The severity of the petitioner's conduct, including, but not limited to, the nature and circumstances of the misconduct.
2. The petitioner's character, maturity and experience at the time of his or her disbarment.
3. The time elapsed since the petitioner's disbarment.
4. Restitution to clients and/or the Bar.
5. The petitioner's activities since disbarment, including, but not limited to, his or her conduct and attitude during that period of time.
6. The petitioner's present reputation and standing in the community.
7. The petitioner's familiarity with the Rules of Professional Conduct and his current proficiency in the law.
8. The sufficiency of the punishment undergone by the petitioner.
9. The petitioner's sincerity, frankness and truthfulness in presenting and discussing factors relating to his or her disbarment and reinstatement.
10. The impact upon public confidence in the administration of justice if the petitioner's license to practice law is restored.
In addition, in reinstatement proceedings, the burden upon the disbarred attorney is a heavy one. He must show by clear and convincing evidence that he is a person of honest demeanor and good moral character and that he possesses the requisite fitness to practice law. Part Six, Section IV, Paragraph 13.I.7.b.(2).
Addressing the Hiss factors seriatim, the Board finds:
1. Mr. Wilson was convicted in federal court on two felony counts, namely, interfering with the collection efforts of the Internal Revenue Service and aiding/abetting others in tax evasion. This conduct by the petitioner took place as a consequence of his legal representation of a business client who, prior to his representation, had been determined by the Internal Revenue Service to be delinquent in tax payments. The criminality of petitioner's conduct was contested at trial, his conviction initially being overturned by the trial judge before ultimately being reinstated on appeal. Mr. Wilson is, in fact, a convicted felon. The Board recognizes the severity of felony convictions, but also is cognizant that reinstatement is not for the innocent. Reinstatement is not a forum for a re-hearing on the merits of the guilt or innocence of a petitioner. As determined by jury trial and upheld on appeal, Mr. Wilson crossed the boundary line between zealous representation of a client and activity constituting criminal conduct on his part in assisting his client's evasion of tax payment responsibility. It is certainly notable, and perhaps unprecedented, however, that the presiding trial judge submitted a letter in support of Mr. Wilson's reinstatement.
2. As a result of his conviction, in 1997, Mr. Wilson surrendered the license to practice law in Virginia which he obtained nineteen years previously. At the time of his conviction and license surrender, nearly ten years had passed since the time of the actions resulting in his conviction. Although maturing as an attorney, Mr. Wilson lacked at that time good judgment of the propriety of his actions.
3. Nearly six years have elapsed now since the petitioner's disbarment.
4. No restitution to a client or to the Bar is involved with petitioner's misconduct. All fines and associated costs assessed in the criminal proceeding and in the disbarment and reinstatement have been paid.
5. Petitioner's activities since his disbarment have been exemplary and well documented. Upon his release from incarceration, he has maintained steady, regular employment. In addition, Mr. Wilson has become engaged over an extended period of time in a number of significant activities within the Roanoke community and within his church, ranging from his participation in a number of both local and overseas mission programs to his active association with the fundraising efforts of a not-for-profit organization. It is apparent to the Board that, during the period of disbarment, Mr. Wilson evaluated his life priorities and admirably focused a good amount of energy and talent toward the improvement of others and himself.
6. Petitioner appears to hold a very good reputation and standing within the community. A number of supportive letters were submitted to the Board, both by lawyers and by non-lawyers. Many of the attorneys held positions of leadership within the Bar and had dedicated years of service to various aspects of Bar activities. At the hearing, three witnesses attested in detail to his current reputation and standing.
7. Mr. Wilson's familiarity with the Rules of Professional Conduct is uncontroverted. His attendance at continuing legal education courses has exceeded the hours necessary to qualify for reinstatement. In more recent years, he has worked as a paralegal in a respected law firm under the supervision of experienced lawyers, resulting in his continued exposure to his intended practice area, and has read journals extensively.
8. Mr. Wilson served a fifteen-month period of incarceration in a federal facility, followed by several months at a halfway house and home confinement. The Board does not question the sufficiency of the punishment assessed to petitioner.
9. The petitioner appeared sincere, frank and truthful in response to questions regarding his disbarment and reinstatement. Mr. Wilson underwent extensive examination by the Board at the hearing. He acknowledged wrongdoing and a lesson learned and recognized that, even if not criminally convicted, his conduct could have caused him to face censure by the Bar for professional misconduct. "I am a better person for what happened. I would not recommend that one go through it to so become. But, I truly feel I am a better person."
10. The impact upon public confidence in the administration of justice of Mr. Wilson's reinstatement is the Board's greatest concern. Assessing the impact is an extremely difficult task. No greater hurdle exists to reinstatement than the obstacle presented by a criminal conviction. Undeniably, a portion of the public holds the opinion that a convicted felon should not be permitted a license to practice law. The Bar afforded testimony from a respected member of the Roanoke Bar on this point. However, the far greater weight of the evidence presented to the Board established the probability that the public confidence would not be adversely impacted by reinstatement of the petitioner. The Board debated heavily on this point.
After considering the factors discussed above, it is the unanimous opinion of the Board that the petitioner has shown by clear and convincing evidence that he is a person of honest demeanor and good moral character and that he possesses the requisite fitness to practice law.
Accordingly, it is the unanimous recommendation to the Supreme Court that the petition to reinstate the license of Douglas Downes Wilson be GRANTED.
As required by Paragraph 13.B.8.c.(5) of the Rules of Court, Part Six, Section IV, the Board finds the cost of this proceeding to be as follows:
Copying $ 168.53
Transcript/Court Reporter 847.90
Mailing of Notice of Hearing 538.98
Administrative Fee 750.00
TOTAL COSTS $ 2,305.41
It is ORDERED that the Clerk of the Disciplinary system forward this Order of Recommendation and the record to the Supreme Court for its consideration and disposition. It is further ORDERED that the Clerk of the Disciplinary system forward an attested copy of this Order of Recommendation by certified mail, return receipt requested, to the petitioner at his address of record with the Virginia State Bar, Suite 200, 4502 Starkey Road, Roanoke, Virginia 24014, and to the petitioner's attorneys, James C. Roberts and Russell V. Palmore, Jr., Troutman, Sanders, LLP, P. O. Box 1122, Richmond, Virginia 23218, and shall deliver the same, by hand, to Edward L. Davis, Assistant Bar Counsel, Virginia State Bar, Eighth and Main Building, 707 East Main Street, Suite 1500, Richmond, Virginia 23219-2803.
ENTERED this ______ day of July,
VIRGINIA STATE BAR DISCIPLINARY BOARD
Roscoe B. Stephenson, III