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Supreme Court: ADHD Doesn’t Alleviate Suspended Lawyer’s Personal Responsibility

Oklahoma City attorney suspendedThe Oklahoma Supreme Court has suspended for one year Oklahoma City Attorney Alexander L. Bednar after he was suspended from practice in the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court and resigned from the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma.

Bednar’s actions leading up to the state and federal disciplinary proceedings “indicate a disturbing pattern of behavior with a key element being a lack of forthrightness,” wrote Justice James Winchester for the court’s majority. Justices Doug Combs, John Reif and Noma Gurich along with Chief Justice Steven Taylor dissented, preferring a longer suspension of two years and a day. The Oklahoma Bar Association’s Professional Responsibility Tribunal recommended a minimum suspension of one year.

In a response to the Bar’s Supreme Court filing that documented his failure to report sanctions in federal court, Bednar filed documents arguing for leniency. His reasoning centered around a recent diagnosis of Attention Deficit Disorder.

The Bar’s PRT scheduled an evidentiary hearing during which evidence was presented that Bednar “frequently acts on impulse without weighing the consequences of his actions,” the court wrote in an April 2 opinion.

His impulsive behavior is likely influenced by ADHD, but “this condition does not alleviate Respondent of personal responsibility,” Winchester wrote.

Noting Bednar’s choice to become an attorney, and the high level of honesty required of an attorney, the court said he wasn’t in his current situation for missing deadlines, but rather for the way he dealt with missed deadlines.  He was only recently diagnosed with ADHD, but testified he’d had symptoms of the disorder all his life.

The help he sought – after falling afoul of the federal court – does not include a “typical doctor/patient relationship.” The psychiatrist treating his disorder had never billed Bednar for services and was not willing to prescribe further medication to treat the disorder, the court wrote.

“While it is possible that Respondent may suffer from an illness which makes it more difficult for him to manage himself, his affairs or the affairs of others, it does not remove from him the responsibility of acting with honesty and integrity,” the court document states.

According to the Oklahoma Supreme Court opinion, the basis for action against Bedner in the U.S. courts included:

  • a pattern of repeated neglect, some resulting in dismissal of clients’ cases,
  • attempted intimidation and intimidation of witnesses,
  • unlawful obstruction of another party’s access to evidence,
  • requesting a person to not voluntarily provide relevant evidence to a party,
  • intentionally filing misleading documents with the court and
  • a continuous pattern of disregard of local rules.

In December, 2011 a federal judge sanctioned Bednar $1,000 for discovery abuse by failing to appear at deposition hearings. In January, 2012 a federal judge formally complained that Bednar had emailed witnesses in a proceeding threatening to sue them for fraud and breach of contract if they testified. That same month, a federal judge complained of three instances the judge described as a pattern of missing deadlines then seeking reconsideration from the court.

Read the full Supreme Court opinion here:

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