ANNAPOLIS – The Maryland Court of Appeals Tuesday suspended a Howard County attorney from practicing law for 90 days, rejecting his argument that his attempts to get treatment for alcoholism should be a mitigating factor.
The court found that, from 1991 through 1994, Peter Driscoll of Columbia failed to keep four clients reasonably informed about their cases, improperly terminated his service and knowingly withheld documents needed for trial.
The court said that Driscoll’s misconduct “was the direct result of either his drinking or his recovery from alcoholism.”
At a hearing in September, Driscoll testified that he had trouble with excessive drinking for about 10 years, but now regularly attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and has been sober since late 1992.
The court reasoned that “a 90-day suspension, along with the following conditions, both fulfills our duty to protect the public and also leave[s] the door open to [Driscoll’s] rehabilitation as a useful and reputable member of the legal profession.”
In order to lift his suspension, Driscoll must:
* pay court fees
* hire, at his expense, a monitor to oversee his law practice
* receive treatment from a mental health professional until that professional determines treatment is no longer needed
* agree not to drink
* maintain active membership in Alcoholics Anonymous
Stuart Levine, Driscoll’s attorney, was hoping for a lighter ruling.
“Practicing law is not like turning on a water faucet,” Levine said in an interview. “You have to do it continuously. What this will do is damage Peter. This ruling is horrible. My client did not steal money or anything criminal like that. This is way to harsh.”
The court noted in its ruling that no client had “suffered a financial loss or…actual injury” because of Driscoll’s misconduct.
The Attorney Grievance Commission, which responds to consumer concerns about lawyers, had asked the court to discipline Driscoll after receiving complaints about his law practice.
Jennifer Johnson, a former reporter for WBAL-TV, was among the unhappy clients.
According to testimony in court documents, Johnson met with Driscoll in 1991 concerning an alleged improper procedure performed by her dentist. She said Driscoll agreed to represent her and obtain her dental records.
From mid-1992 through 1993, Johnson testified, she and her husband tried to find out about her case. Driscoll told her that he was working on it, she said.
In February 1994, Johnson wrote to Driscoll saying she would complain to the commission unless she received a written reply on the status of her case. Johnson testified that she never heard back from Driscoll.
During the hearing, Driscoll said he “was aware that he had a (alcohol) problem in the ’80s, early ’80s, mid-80s.” He sought psychiatric help in December 1991, he said, but failed to attend AA meetings.
Court records show he began drinking again in April 1992. He testified that he continued to drink “through late August of 1992,” until seeking psychiatric help later that year.
“He addressed the problem before this appeared before court,” Levine said. “He was trying to do things to help people. Now, he has 90 days to go without work. This is very unfortunate.”
The Attorney Grievance Commission had asked the court to suspend Driscoll from practicing law indefinitely, with the chance to reapply in six months. -30-