CHARLESTON – The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals has ordered the suspension of a Parkersburg attorney’s law license for three months after he allegedly lied to a magistrate regarding his own case for driving under the influence.
The Hearing Panel Subcommittee recommended sanctions for Alfred Joseph Munoz for violations that included allegedly lying to a magistrate in his DUI case; and his professional misconduct, including delays and failure to communicate with clients, while working in habeas corpus proceedings.
The Supreme Court imposed the suspension of Munoz’s license for three months; compliance with the mandates of Rule 3.28 of the Rules of Lawyer Disciplinary Procedure consequent to his suspension; automatic reinstatement following suspension; completion of an additional six hours of continuing legal education during the current reporting period, including three hours in the area of ethics and office management and three hours in the representation of clients in petitions for writ of habeas corpus; and payment of costs of the proceedings, according to the Nov. 9 order.
Justice Margaret Workman authored the majority opinion. Chief Justice Allen Loughry dissented and authored a separate opinion.
In 2012, Munoz was charged with a DUI in Doddridge County and the case was assigned to Magistrate Jamie Moran. In June 2013, Munoz convinced the magistrate to dismiss the original DUI charge based upon failure to prosecute in a timely fashion.
On Aug. 30, 2013, the DUI charge was reissued, along with two additional counts of driving on a suspended license. The case was assigned to Magistrate Olivia Adams. On Feb. 7, 2014, Munoz moved to dismiss the reissued charge.
At a hearing, Moran testified that Munoz requested continuances and his motion to dismiss was ultimately denied.
On Jan. 22, 2015, Doddridge Circuit Court denied Munoz’s petition to prohibit the magistrate court from proceeding against him on a reissued charge of DUI. He appealed to the Supreme Court and, in a 2015 memorandum decision, the court affirmed the denial and held the DUI charge against him could be re-filed.
Munoz claimed the written record was silent as to whether he requested any continuances, however, the magistrate testified that she allowed him to orally move for continuances because she thought he could be trusted as an officer of the court.
The ODC initiated a disciplinary action based on Munoz’s conduct in the magistrate court proceeding and the HPS ultimately found that Munoz displayed a marked lack of candor with the magistrate during the June 21, 2014, hearing in which he incorrectly stated that the matter had not been continued at his request and convinced the magistrate to dismiss the charge.
“The HPS found that Mr. Munoz violated Rules 8.1(a), 8.4(c) and 8.4(d) of the West Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct, based upon his false statement regarding the requests for continuances and his denial that he said he planned to enter a plea,” the majority opinion states.
In Munoz’s representation of clients in two separate habeas corpus proceedings, the HPS also found violations.
In September 2015, Carl Lockhart filed an ethics complaint against Munoz and filed a motion for new counsel.
Munoz admitted to the ODC that he had lost track of Lockhart’s case and that he should have been more diligent and corresponded with Lockhart in a more timely manner.
In another case, involving Jonathan Bourne, another complaint was filed against Munoz in September 2015, for failure to communicate with his client.
Munoz failed to respond to ODC inquiries regarding the case and was found to have violated multiple rules of the West Virginia Rules of Professional Misconduct.
The HPS recommended Munoz’s law license be suspended for one year, along with the other sanctions.
“By sanctioning Mr. Munoz less harshly than recommended by the HPS, we do not diminish the severity of his conduct in any manner,” Workman wrote. “We find clear and convincing evidence to support the HPS’s factual finding that he misrepresented the facts surrounding his requests for continuances in his DUI criminal case, despite his characterization of those matters as simply based upon court confusion, misinformation, or contradictory testimony of the prosecuting attorney and the magistrate. We find his behavior egregious and reprehensible.”
Loughry, in his dissent, wrote that while he agreed with the majority’s conclusion, he believed the three-month suspension was “woefully insufficient” and that he should have been suspended for the full one year, as recommended by the HPS.
“The evidence before the court demands a harsher penalty,” Loughry wrote.
By rejecting the subcommittees recommendation of supervised practice, the majority’s sanction does nothing to assist Munoz in correcting the shortcomings that led to his problems in the two habeas corpus cases, Loughry wrote.
W.Va. Supreme Court of Appeals case number: 16-0645