Virginia Attorney Suspended From Practice For Alleged Sleeping and Drunken Outburst At CLE Program

gavel2There 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.

11 thoughts on “Virginia Attorney Suspended From Practice For Alleged Sleeping and Drunken Outburst At CLE Program”

  1. Clearly, this attorney has an alcohol problem.

    In his defense, as one who has suffered through countless boring and mind numbing CLE courses, the sleeping and the snoring is not that unusual. The yelling at the video screen was his undoing. 🙂

    Still, I must admit, the six month suspension, for what amounted to a simple peace disturbance and/or public intoxication at the CLE, appears to be without merit. Given his previous problems, however, I’m not sure why his license wasn’t pulled before now, with a requirement for treatment as a prerequisite to regain his license to practice law.

    1. I have to agree, the yelling at the screen was the problem. Had he kept his cool he could have prevented all this until the next disaster. Speaking of CLEs, in Fred Wiseman’s documentary Aspen, there is a very funny sequence where on day one of the CLE all the drs are in attendance and furiously taking notes. On day two about half the spaces are taken up with tape recorders. On day three, the speaker is a tape recorder and the classroom is filled with tape recorders.

  2. So, Turley, what do you recommend that we do, as a Bar, to Ruth Ginsberg for being drunk at some Presidential speech recently and passing out? Same strokes for different folks?
    CLE is a hustle. Not that the law profession does not need CLE– but the manner in which it is marketed and conducted is a bit much. You end up listening to lawyers who never tried a case tell you how to try a case. Lawyers would be better off attending trials where great lawyers are giving a closing argument.
    So what if he was drunk and snoozing. Big friggin deal.

    Ginsberg should resign. She must be held up to the same standard as this guy.

  3. Attorneys are big substance abusers. Booze has also been a problem. But, during the cocaine era of the 70’s/80’s, they were heavily into that. I once met w/ an alcoholic attorney client. Nice guy, but out of control. He was very drunk when he gave me an assignment. I completed the witness interviews, sent him their statements, my report and bill. The attorney called me and thanked me. But, he did not remember giving me the assignment. I had a few coke head clients. And, I know a couple who got wrapped up in the trade and ended up doing Federal time. I am tough on attorneys. ALL occupations have their substance problems. But, if attorneys are honest, they will admit their occupation is way up there. Dentist are up there w/ them. We PI’s also have issues on the higher end scale. So do chefs, knowing many of them as well.

  4. During what course did this happen?

    Because, after paying hundreds of dollars to endure some of the glorified infomercials labelled as “courses” by legal vendors solely concerned with selling their wares to a captive audience, it’s quite possible this behavior was justified- especially the drinking and snoring.

    The boorish and obnoxious behavior, on the other hand, should be probably be reserved for when these same legal vendors make unsolicited sales calls at the office.

    (kidding, of course)

  5. Around the time I was in law school many years ago, I was told the following story about a man who applied to practice law in Virginia. I do not know if the story is accurate, but whoever told it to me believed it was accurate. And as the result of hearing this story I decided to not take the Virginia bar exam.

    At the time, all persons who applied to practice law in Virginia had to go through a personal interview after they passed the bar exam. Perhaps the interview was conducted by judges, But I can’t be certain as to who I was told conducted the interview. During the interview the bar applicant was asked what his sexual preference was. Thinking the question offensive, he responded “cows.” His application to practice was held up for a year.

    Since hearing that story, I’ve thought the Virginia bar to be a bit “different.” But given the substance abuse background in this matter, they may not have missed the mark.

  6. JT, why are you a bit surprised at the six month suspension? Do you think it should have been longer or was it too severe? Just asking.

  7. If the CLE was only open to attorneys I’m ok with this. Otherwise, it is yet another skip and jump down the “slippery slope”. Unless there is a disposition of guilt in a court where does this end? The same conduct at a country club? A soccer game w/his kids? A Redskins game? Suppose the guy is an attorney in a big national firm. Does he then get a pass?

    Just because there are stupid attorneys practicing law doesn’t mean a State Bar needs to emulate that conduct.

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