New Legal Developments

Disbarment — Drug Addict Convicted of Vehicular Manslaughter

JORDAN TONYA LOUISE PETERS (In the Matter of) (January 19, 2018) Case no. 13-C-16396,  __ Cal. State Bar Ct. Rptr. __
http://www.statebarcourt.ca.gov/Portals/2/documents/opinions/Peters_13-C-16396_p.pdf

Attorney Peters had been taking prescribed Neurontin for several years.  She was later prescribed Norco, as well as other prescription drugs, which she admitted to abusing.  By mid-2012, Peters had stopped taking Norco, continued abusing Neurontin, closed her law practice, and was teaching at two universities.  On April 30 2013, Peters took 6-7 Neurontin pills, more than her daily prescription, within the space of 5 hours.  An hour later, she was called unexpectedly to pick up her son.  Peters caused a major head-on collision, traveling 50-60 mph on residential streets, and collided with another vehicle, head-on, seriously injuring the driver of the other car, and killing the passenger, the driver’s husband.  Peters was untruthful with law enforcement personnel about her drug use.  Peters was convicted of felony vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, Cal. Pen. Code, § 191.5, subd. (a), among other DUI-type crimes.
Held: Not surprising, Peters was disbarred for committing a felony involving moral turpitude.  The theory the State Bar Court used, is troubling.  Relying on dicta in In re Lesansky (2001) 25 Cal.4th 11, the court defined “moral turpitude” as merely “such a serious breach of a duty owed to another or to society, or such a flagrant disrespect for the law or for societal norms, that knowledge of the attorney’s conduct would be likely to undermine public confidence in and respect for the legal profession.”  Thus, “moral turpitude” is now defined by the act the attorney commits, and whether a phantom, faceless “public” would take umbrage at the act, without regard to the attorney’s state of mind.
Lesansky was a child-molestation case, yet with increasing frequency, the State Bar is relying on Lesansky to charge “moral turpitude” for every crime an attorney commits, and lately, charging moral turpitude as an alternative to charging a more applicable Rule violation.  The result, is that trials in the State Bar Court are becoming more of a popularity contest, than actual fact-finding proceedings.