White-Collar Crime

Lawyer Takes Plea, Gives Up Law Practice; Records Showed He Charged Extra for DWI Backdating

A North Carolina lawyer had initially intended to fight a criminal obstruction of justice case over the work he did for clients charged with driving while intoxicated.

But after counsel for James Crouch, 46, found out last week that he had altered law office paperwork, after he was criminally charged, to try to conceal the $500 to $750 extra he charged clients who had their DWI court records backdated, the defense game plan changed, reports the News & Observer.

His counsel went to the Wake County district attorney, to whom they had already provided the client files, not realizing Crouch had altered them, and alerted him to the issue. The defense lawyers also informed the North Carolina State Bar.

On Tuesday, Crouch both took a plea in the obstruction case and voluntarily gave up his law license, the newspaper recounts. He will be sentenced at a later date, but the suspension of his law practice took place immediately. Local attorneys who earlier rallied to support him have agreed to help wind up his practice.

“When something like that happens, the case is essentially over,” defense attorney Joseph B. Cheshire V of Raleigh told the newspaper after the plea hearing. “We were preparing for trial, but the world changed last week. It was a stunning week last week, just a heartbreaker.”

The backdating of court conviction records concerning Crouch’s DWI clients also resulted in a well-regarded local judge stepping down from the bench. She said she had trusted the attorney, who was a law school classmate of hers, and didn’t realize what she was signing. The orders helped those convicted reduce the period of time in which their driver’s licenses were suspended or avoid even suspension altogether.

Earlier coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “Colleagues Gather to Support Indicted NC Criminal Defense Lawyer as He Turns Himself In”

ABAJournal.com: “Ex-Judge Pleads to Misdemeanor in Criminal Case Over Altered Conviction Dates in DWI Cases”

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