Beating Defenseless Client With Baseball Bat Brings Disbarment for West Virginia Lawyer

By Joan C. Rogers  

The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Oct. 25 took away the license of a lawyer who beat a client with a wooden baseball bat on his front porch, chased him down the street until he fell, and resumed the beating as the client lay defenseless on the ground (Lawyer Disciplinary Bd. v. Robinson, W. Va., No. 35549, 10/25/12).

In rejecting the lawyer's request for a suspension rather than disbarment, the court emphasized a separate incident in which the lawyer used a propane tank to break his wife's car window as she was trying to drive away from their home. The lawyer must complete an extensive course in anger management before seeking reinstatement, it directed.

Unethical to Batter Client.

According to the court, the lawyer, Joshua M. Robinson, “beat a client, David L. Gump, with a wooden baseball bat on his front porch and then chased his defenseless client with this weapon down a residential street until he fell to the ground. When Mr. Gump fell down, Mr. Robinson began beating him again with the baseball bat in the head, chest, and back.”

Gump suffered significant injuries in the incident. Robinson initially lied to the police and prosecutors, but ultimately pleaded guilty to a felony charge of unlawful wounding, according to the court.

Robinson contended that Gump was a drug addict who showed up at his house to demand money for drugs and broke the window panes on his door. He said he grabbed the baseball bat to defend himself and to push Gump out of his house.

The hearing panel didn't buy the lawyer's story. It found that Robinson violated Kentucky Rules of Professional Conduct 8.4(b) (criminal act reflecting adversely on lawyer's fitness) and 8.4(c) (conduct involving dishonesty).

In a per curiam opinion, the court upheld those findings, emphasizing that the panel “listened to hours of testimony and reviewed voluminous documents that clearly established Mr. Robinson's culpability in this crime.”

Criminal History.

The court found it obvious that Robinson intentionally violated his duties to his client, the public, the legal system, and the legal profession.

“Mr. Gump was seriously injured when Mr. Robinson repeatedly beat him with a wooden baseball bat and then continued to beat him as he lay defenseless on the ground,” the court said. “His conduct brought physical injury to his client and also injured the public by lessening people's faith and confidence in the legal profession.”

The court spurned Robinson's argument that his lack of a prior disciplinary record should be considered as a mitigating factor. While the hearing panel was evaluating what sanction to recommend, Robinson was also facing disciplinary charges in Kentucky, the court pointed out.

Those charges resulted from Robinson's guilty pleas to two counts of “wanton endangerment” growing out of a violent altercation in which Robinson allegedly threw a propane tank through the windshield of his wife's vehicle as she was attempting to exit the driveway of their home with a child. A witness told the police that Robinson threw the tank at the vehicle several times until the rear window finally broke, the court noted.

As an aggravating factor, the hearing panel found that Robinson's assault on Gump continued a long history of criminal behavior that began in 1995, before Robinson's admission to the West Virginia bar, when he was convicted of assault and public drunkenness.

The hearing panel also found several other aggravating factors: lack of remorse; lack of full disclosure; conversion of settlement funds belonging to Gump's grandfather; and a pattern of failing to follow court orders.

The beating “also injured the public by lessening people's faith and confidence in the legal profession.”
West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals

The court agreed with the disciplinary board that Robinson's license should be annulled in light of his criminal offense and his failure to take responsibility for his actions or even recognize their magnitude.

Before Robinson petitions for reinstatement, the court directed, he must undergo a comprehensive examination by a psychiatrist, comply with any recommended treatment, and complete an extensive course in anger management. After reinstatement his practice must be supervised for two years, the court added.

The Office of Disciplinary Counsel was represented by Chief Lawyer Disciplinary Counsel Rachael L. Fletcher Cipolleti, Charleston, W. Va. Sherri D. Goodman, Charleston, represented Robinson.

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