CHARLESTON – William H. Duty of Williamson lost his West Virginia law license, after showing he needed to lose it.
Duty, having failed to appear for a Supreme Court of Appeals oral argument where he might have saved his license, tried to reschedule.
He moved for reargument, though he hadn't argued at all.
He hadn't even filed a brief.
Too late, the Justices agreed. They annulled his license Feb. 15, for harming clients and undermining public confidence in the legal profession.
Duty, a member of the bar 22 years, blamed his errors on painkiller OxyContin.
He sought treatment when the Office of Disciplinary Counsel brought charges against him, but the Justices would not excuse rule violations on account of that.
"Duty's chemical dependency upon OxyContin, although warranting continuing treatment, did not rise to the level of avoidance of responsibility," they held.
They ordered Duty to pay $2,000 restitution to former client Randy Stiltner. Duty told Stiltner he hadn't received a $2,500 check when he had.
Stiltner learned the truth by calling the attorney for the defense.
The Justices also ordered Duty to reimburse the Lawyer Disciplinary Board for the proceeding and warned that if he doesn't, they could hold him in contempt.
They found "particularly egregious" the commingling of Duty's money and a $25,000 settlement he obtained for sisters Rachel Lockhart and Rita Sammons.
"Duty opened a checking account in his own name at the Bank of Mingo in Mingo County, West Virginia, with the $25,000 and used that account for his personal and office expenses," the Justices wrote.
In nine days the balance plunged to $7,634.12.
Duty restored the full amount, after the sisters complained. He tried to coax Sammons to withdraw the complaint, but she persisted.
Under oath on March 31, 2005, Duty swore he didn't embezzle.
On the same day, Sandy Gillman filed a complaint claiming he let the statute of limitations run on her injury claim.
Duty had given Gillman three days to pay a filing fee, without explaining that her claim would expire on the fourth day.
Gillman didn't pay the fee and couldn't find another lawyer.
Duty shared a fee with his secretary, Sheria Fields. She referred car crash victim Ernest Prater to Duty, who told her she would receive half his fee.
A rule of professional conduct states that, "A lawyer or law firm shall not share legal fees with a nonlawyer."
Duty asked his associate in the Prater case, Christian Harris, to withhold $3,500 from a $100,000 settlement.
Although Duty later telephoned Harris and told him to forget the $3,500, disciplinary chief Lawrence Lewis counted the request as a rule violation.
Lewis charged that Duty broke 15 rules in all, including five that he broke twice.
"While there is evidence in the record that Respondent has been addicted to OxyContin for two to three years, it cannot be said that this chemical dependency caused his misconduct," Lewis wrote to the Court last year.
Glen Rutledge of Williamson represented Duty in the disciplinary process. When the case reached the Court, Duty acted "pro se" -– for himself.
The Justices left a door open for Duty, providing for reinstatement if the Office of Disciplinary Counsel guides him through a narcotics or alcoholics anonymous program.
He would have to take 12 hours of classes in legal ethics and practice for two years under supervision.