There is an remarkable sanction imposed recently by the Virginia State Bar Disciplinary Board which suspended lawyer Wayne Hartke of Reston for intoxication and disruptive behavior. What makes it notable is that the conduct did not occur with clients or in court or even in a firm. It occurred as a continuing legal education seminar. Hartke will be suspended for six months and have to enroll in a two-year treatment program.
According to witnesses, Hartke slept and snored through a morning CLE seminar and then apparently woke up by the afternoon session but yelled at the video screen during the session. One witness said that he smelled of alcohol and had a bottle of booze with him. Clearly boorish and obnoxious behavior, but I am still a bit surprised that it resulted in a six-month suspension.
According to reports, this is not Hartke’s first disciplinary case. In 2010, Hartke was reprimanded for failing to protect the interests of individual directors of a corporate client. More relevant was the 2011 reprimand and 10-day Fairfax County jail sentence for contempt of court. In that case, Hartke’s blood alcohol content was measured at .127 during a court appearance.
The prior case raises a serious question of a drinking problem and the history may have pushed the bar to a more severe sanction. Indeed, this intervention may be just what Hartke needs to deal with the issue of alcohol. He can view it as a more tailored effect of Continuing Legal Education.