The District of Columbia Court of Appeals ordered (PDF) the disbarment today of Walter Blair, a Washington-area attorney convicted in 2009 of witness tampering and money laundering.
A Maryland federal jury found Blair guilty in 2009 of laundering tens of thousands of dollars, telling a witness to lie about the money’s whereabouts, and making false statements to the Treasury Department about his handling of the money, along with other related charges. He was sentenced to 97 months in prison in April 2010.
After the guilty verdict, Blair, a member of the D.C. Bar since 2001, was suspended from practice in March 2010. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed (PDF) one of his convictions, but the D.C. appeals court still found in today’s order that Blair should be disbarred for “moral turpitude.”
An attorney representing Blair in his criminal cases, Sandy Lee, said in a phone interview that Blair is still waiting to hear from the U.S. Supreme Court on a petition for certiorari he filed after the Fourth Circuit decision.
“He hopes that the Supreme Court will agree to take his case and review his case, and he hopes the Supreme Court will overturn all the convictions,” Lee said. Lee spoke on behalf of the attorney representing Blair in the D.C. Bar matter, Darnell Ingram. Lee and Ingram are with Lee & Associates in College Park, formerly Blair & Lee when Blair was still practicing.
Blair is serving his sentence in a Pennsylvania prison, but is scheduled for resentencing March 19 before U.S. District Judge Peter Messitte, in light of the Fourth Circuit ruling and other challenges brought by Blair.
According to the 2008 indictment (PDF), Blair’s practice was based in College Park, but he also maintained an office in Washington. He handled plaintiff and defense work, including one headline-making case with Johnnie Cochran Jr. in 1999, representing the family of a man shot and killed by Montgomery County, Md., police.
In late 2003, according to the indictment, the relative of a slain drug dealer brought money from the dealer’s safe to Blair. Presented with tens of thousands of dollars in rubber band-wrapped stacks, Blair allegedly used the money to open up a bank account and assist the relative in using the funds to buy real estate.
He was accused of making up a story about the money’s origins and telling the relative to lie to FBI investigators. According to the indictment, he also failed to report that he had received the money to the Treasury Department. Blair later represented the drug dealers’ associates at trial on drug charges, and, according to the indictment, used some of the original funds to pay himself.
Besides witness tampering and money laundering, Blair was also convicted of obstruction of justice, for allegedly misrepresenting his professional history to a Virginia federal court in order to represent the drug dealers’ associates. The Fourth Circuit reversed the conviction last September, finding there was insufficient evidence, but affirmed his other convictions.
In today’s order, a three-judge appeals panel wrote that witness tampering is a crime of “moral turpitude per se,” a violation that leads to automatic disbarment under the D.C. Code.
Noting the pending petition for certiorari before the Supreme Court, Blair asked the D.C. appeals court to stay a decision until that matter is resolved. In today’s order, the court wrote that because the petition didn’t involve the witness tampering charge – the basis for his disbarment – his request was denied.
In July 2010, the Board on Professional Responsibility found in its report that both witness tampering and obstruction of justice were crimes of moral turpitude, and recommended disbarment. The appeals court wrote that despite the Fourth Circuit’s reversal, the conviction for witness tampering still warranted disbarment on its own.
Associate Judges Stephen Glickman and John Fisher, and Senior Judge Frank Schwelb heard the case.