Legal Ethics

Okla. Lawyer Gets Probation re Addiction Self-Reported to Bar Authorities After Arrest

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An Oklahoma lawyer who admittedly used illegal drugs but self-reported to attorney disciplinary authorities after she was arrested for felony prescription forgery and sought treatment has been put on probation.

Saying that discipline must be tailored to fit the facts of each specific case, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held in an opinion yesterday that Tracy Smith Zahl should, in essence, be rewarded for stepping up to the situation, promptly informing disciplinary authorities of misconduct about which they might otherwise never have been aware (no criminal case was pursued against her) and, despite a brief relapse or two, successfully pursuing treatment.

Arrested on June 10, 2008 by Oklahoma City police, she entered an inpatient treatment program on June 11, 2008 and contacted the Oklahoma Bar Association by letter on June 19, 2008.

She cooperated with disciplinary authorities, obtained treatment for her addiction to prescription pain medication and at no point were any of her clients harmed, the opinion notes.

Imposing a deferred one-year suspension, subject to her compliance with the terms of probation, the court explained:

“We must fashion discipline that will sufficiently deter the respondent and other members of the bar from similar misconduct. The respondent in the case at bar committed the criminal offense of attempting to obtain a controlled dangerous substance by forgery or fraud. This is serious misconduct and it is not to be taken lightly. The respondent also had obtained drugs by forged prescription in the weeks prior to her arrest. The respondent has not been charged with or convicted of any crime nor has she any previous disciplinary history. …

“Counsel for the bar [said] that the respondent cooperated fully and frankly with the bar and had done everything she could do to address her problem and facilitate her recovery. No clients were involved or harmed. We agree with the bar that the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that respondent’s problems were a result of her addiction to highly addictive pain medication. The respondent’s conduct in confronting her addiction and seeking treatment, her self-reporting to the bar and her forthrightness and cooperation throughout the disciplinary process serves as an example to other lawyers who are addicted. …

“This court will, where appropriate, look favorably on those who are self-motivated to confront their addictions, exhibit a sincere commitment to rehabilitation, openly admit their conduct and seek help before disciplinary charges are filed.”

Hat tip: Legal Profession Blog.

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