Legal Ethics

Lawyer is suspended after he is accused of intoxication at CLE seminar

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Updated: A Virginia lawyer has been suspended for six months after he was accused of disruptive behavior and intoxication at a continuing legal education seminar.

The Virginia State Bar Disciplinary Board suspended lawyer Wayne Hartke of Reston at a March 27 hearing, Virginia Lawyers Weekly reports in a story noted by the Legal Profession Blog. The board also ordered Hartke to enroll in a two-year treatment program, according to its summary order.

A certification of the ethics charges by a state bar subcommittee alleged Hartke slept and snored loudly in a CLE seminar morning session in January 2014, then yelled at a video screen during an afternoon session, according to Virginia Lawyers Weekly. A witness said Hartke smelled of alcohol and had a bottle of liquor with him.

Hartke denied he was intoxicated in his written response to the bar and in an interview with a bar investigator, despite eyewitnesses who “directly refute” Hartke’s version of events, according to the subcommittee’s findings of facts. Hartke maintained he had a drink only at lunch.

In the certification to the disciplinary board, Hartke was accused of violating Rules 8.1 (a) and (d) of the Rules of Professional Conduct, which bar knowing false statements of material fact in connection with a disciplinary matter and obstruction of an investigation by a disciplinary authority. He was also accused of violating Rule 8.4 (a), which bars violating disciplinary rules through the acts of another, and Rule 8.4 (c), which bars dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation that adversely reflects on fitness to practice law.

Hartke responded on Wednesday to the ABA Journal’s phone and email messages seeking comment on Monday.

“The Virginia State Bar Disciplinary Board’s ‘Summary Order’ … states the disciplinary rule violations as being Rule 8.1(b) and Rule 8.4 (a),” Hartke said in an email. “Rule 8.1(b) states that there was a failure to ‘disclose a fact necessary to correct a misapprehension.’ That then constitutes the violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct under Rule 8.4(a). Those were the only findings by the board. It states that the ‘board dismisses all other disciplinary rule violations charged against the respondent.’

“I have not read any other report you may have received, but from whatever source it came, it was not the official response by the Disciplinary Board,” Hartke added. “I am greatly distressed by the determination.”

Alcohol played a role in a previous 2011 reprimand (PDF), imposed after Hartke received a 10-day contempt sentence for coming to court with a blood alcohol level that registered .127.

Updated on April 8 to include Hartke’s comment and to rewrite the first paragraph and headline. Updated April 9 to include additional information about the allegations.

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