(CN) – The Oklahoma Supreme Court suspended a lawyer who brought “embarrassment and discredit” to the profession by drunkenly shooting up the home of a former girlfriend.
A five-justice majority agreed that James Albert Conrady, of Okmulgee, violated Rule 8.4(b) of the Oklahoma Rules of Professional Conduct, affirming the findings of the state bar Professional Responsibility Tribunal.
Conrady returned home from a three-week trip to the Middle East on Jan. 30, 2009, to learn that his girlfriend, Janice Pierce, wanted to break up because she had begun dating her Sunday school co-worker, Steve McCroskey.
An increasingly despondent Conrady consumed vodka and pain medication over the next 24 hours, eventually driving to Pierce’s home with a loaded .45 caliber semiautomatic handgun. Pierce was not home, and Conrady forced himself inside.
“Conrady fired rounds throughout the home, including into a bathroom mirror, a television, and other personal items belonging to Pierce’s boyfriend,” the opinion states. “One of the rounds pierced an interior wall and the projectile was discovered in a bedroom normally occupied by McCroskey’s daughter. Another round penetrated the outside wall of the house and lodged in a neighbor’s storm door. After exiting the home, Conrady discharged his firearm multiple times into Pierce and McCroskey’s unoccupied vehicles.”
Okmulgee police arrested Conrady and charged him with second-degree burglary, possession of a firearm while in the commission of a felony, reckless conduct with a firearm, possession of a firearm under the influence of intoxicants and two charges of malicious injury to an automobile. In 2010, Conrady pleaded no contest to all six counts and received five years of probation after sentencing was deferred. The state bar filed its disciplinary action the following year.
Conrady failed to persuade the court that he had committed mere “property crimes,” and faced punishment “for what might have happened as opposed to what actually happened.”
“There can be no doubt that Conrady’s intentional discharge of multiple rounds from a high caliber firearm was reckless and potentially deadly,” according to the majority opinion authored by Justice Noma Gurich. “Yet, Conrady’s assertion overlooks the actual and personal harm which resulted from the shooting.”
“Both McCroskey and Pierce were forced to obtain protective orders and live their lives fearful of further aggression,” Gurich added. “McCloskey (sic) was required to temporarily suspend visits with his six-year-old daughter as a result of the shooting. The harm and threat of harm faced by these individuals was not a mere hypothetical, it was real and it was unnerving. The unlawful acts were also damaging to the legal profession as a whole. Conrady’s actions brought embarrassment and discredit to himself and the entire profession.”
Though the court could disbar Conrady for such conduct, the majority settled on a two-year suspension because of mitigating factors, including Conrady’s 25-year law career, his abstinence from drugs and alcohol, and his self-reporting of the crimes.
Punishment is still in order, however, in light of evidence produced by the state bar, which showed that Conrady sent Pierce inappropriate emails after the shooting.
“In spite of his alleged psychotherapy and sobriety, Conrady delivered e-mails to Pierce in March and April of 2010 which were offensive and demeaning,” Gurich wrote.
Conrady must also pay $1,426.41 in costs.
Justice Kauger wrote a specially concurring opinion that said the bar association should have handled the discipline of Konrady more formally.
“Had the chief justice received proper notice of the judgment, the respondent would have been suspended from the practice of law immediately,” Kauger wrote. “Although there is a procedure for diversionary action by the bar upon a complaint under … Rules Governing Disciplinary Proceedings, this was not pursued by the OBA, presumably because felony charges were involved.”
“The inference from the record is that he continued to practice law and that he had legal work pending over two years later, at the time of the disciplinary hearing on May 24, 2011, and in fact, there was no prohibition against his doing so,” Kauger added.
In a one-line dissent, Justices Doug Combs and Steven Taylor said the court should have disbarred Conrady. Justice James Edmondson, on the other hand, said the court should have deferred the suspension in consideration of Conrady’s successful completion of probation, restitution and rehabilitation.
Justice John Reif recused himself.