The D.C. Board on Professional Responsibility has recommended to the D.C. Court of Appeals that former White House aide Claude Allen, who pleaded guilty in 2006 to one misdemeanor count of theft of property under $500, be suspended from the practice of law for one year. That suspension would be a much stiffer penalty than the 90-day suspension earlier recommended by a hearing committee.
Allen, who worked for President George W. Bush, admitted that, on three separate occasions, he bought an item at a Target store, later went back to the store with the receipt, pulled an identical item off the shelves, and used the receipt to “return” it, allowing him to keep the purchased item at no cost. According to the hearing committee’s Nov. 19 report, Allen used such means to steal a $525 Bose stereo, a $237 Kodak printer, and an $88 RCA stereo in 2005.
In its March 9 report and recommendation to the local appeals court, the Board on Professional Responsibility says that, although bar counsel failed to prove moral turpitude, which would have required disbarment, Allen’s actions were “deceptive and dishonest” enough to warrant a greater sanction than 90 days.
“[Allen’s] underlying conduct was serious, involving as it did theft by fraud. Although the misconduct did not occur in an attorney-client relationship, it infringes upon the core values of Rule 8.4(c), that a lawyer must not act in a manner reflecting adversely on his or her honesty, trustworthiness or fitness. Conduct that involves deceit, dishonesty or misrepresentation is particularly serious. We are especially concerned by the repeated and calculated nature of [Allen’s] misconduct,” the board wrote.
The 25-page report includes a lengthy discussion of what constitutes moral turpitude and what mitigating factors may be considered before making a recommendation to the court. Citing past precedent, the board said that misdemeanor convictions must be considered on a case-by-case basis.
“Dishonesty is an important factor in analyzing whether criminal conduct rises to the level of moral turpitude, but not every criminal act of dishonesty involves moral turpitude,” the board wrote. The key factor, the report says, is “dishonesty for personal gain.”
The board, like the hearing committee before, said that bar counsel failed to prove that Allen’s conduct was for personal gain. In documents and testimony, Allen contended that his conduct was a result of severe stress stemming from his time as an adviser to Bush. While at the White House, he served as an assistant to the president for domestic policy issues during and after Hurricane Katrina. Allen said that he also suffered from the stress of moving five times in eight months after the house he had put up for sale sold unexpectedly quickly, and his family had to relocate several times before finding a permanent residence in October 2005.
The board agreed with the hearing committee that Allen should receive a reduced suspension because of several mitigating factors, including the suffering he witnessed in Katrina’s aftermath. The board said his public service, cooperation with the investigation, and completion of 90-day suspensions in Pennsylvania and Virginia, where he holds licenses, should also be taken into account.
But those factors were not enough to warrant the lighter 90-day suspension in D.C., the board wrote. “Taking together the nature and circumstance of [Allen’s] conduct, the aggravating and mitigating factors, and the purpose of protecting the public, the courts and the profession, we believe that a suspension of one year strikes the right balance,” the board wrote.
In a footnote, the board asked the court to provide greater clarity on what standard should be used by bar counsel and hearing committees to make findings of moral turpitude.
Reached at his office in Gaithersburg, Md., Allen said, “I haven’t seen the report and therefore cannot comment on the matter at this time.”