Legal Ethics

Disbarment recommended for lawyer in DUI manslaughter

A State Bar of California judge has recommended disbarment for a San Francisco lawyer convicted of DUI and manslaughter in the death of an 85-year-old neighbor, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.   Robert David Walker, 72, had avoided jail time in the criminal matter but the State Bar judge found (PDF) in the discipline proceedings that Walker’s testimony, continuing his earlier defense claims made in state court, were not credible and bolstered a finding of moral turpitude.

Walker, an environmental lawyer with Allen Matkins, has been on interim suspension by the bar since Aug. 13. The accident occurred in Walker’s neighborhood, Rossmoor, a gated community for seniors in Walnut Creek.

Between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. on December 10, 2010, Walker “drank vodka and then got into his Bentley,” State Bar Court Judge Lucy Armendariz wrote. He then drove from his home to a restaurant, where he had a beer with dinner. Once back inside the gates of Rossmoor, Walker struck 85-year-old Edward Phillips, who was walking to the bus stop for his own regular trip to dinner, with the aid of a cane.

Walker told police that Phillips was “running…a sort of hobbled sprint” and jumped in front of his vehicle. Phillips rolled up onto the vehicle and smashed the windshield. Walker got out of the car and looked at Phillips, who had a serious head injury and was bleeding profusely. Rather than go to nearby homes for help, Walker left him there and drove about a mile to a guardhouse at the gate.

Phillips, who was conscious as he lay on the street and able to identify himself to someone who came to his aid, died three days later.

While alcohol may have impaired Walker’s moral judgment and physical alertness at the time, Judge Armendariz wrote, “Nevertheless he was not candid.” The judge noted that six days after the accident Walker was still telling police that Phillips had run out in front of his car and, after finally admitting to having drunk some vodka, said that his blood pressure and cholesterol medications probably caused his blood alcohol reading to be 0.18, more than twice the state’s 0.08 legal limit.

“His leaving the scene of the accident and informing police that he had only one beer are acts involving moral turpitude,” the judge wrote. Her recommendation for disbarment will be reviewed by the California Supreme Court.

Walker had pleaded no contest to a charge of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, and was sentenced to 90 days of electronic home detention, a fine of $1,076 for DUI, a restitution fine of $240 and 50 hours of community service. A settlement paid to Phillips’ adult daughters by Walker’s insurance company included a provision that they would not ask that he serve jail time.

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