May 27, 2020 Adventures in the Law

Practice Tip of the Month (Plus Back-Up)

By Norm Tabler

This month we have two practice tips--a primary tip and a back-up tip--both courtesy of the Kansas Supreme Court. First the primary tip: If you find yourself summoned to appear before the State Board for Discipline of Attorneys on a charge of being drunk at a trial, show up sober.

Second, as a back-up, if you forgot the first tip when you appeared before the disciplinary board and now must appear before the Supreme Court to oppose the disciplinary board’s recommendation of suspension of your license to practice, show up sober.

The saga began when a disciplinary board hearing was convened to consider four disciplinary complaints against Topeka attorney Justin K. Holstin, including a charge of appearing in court while impaired by some substance.

The hearing did not go well for Justin. His demeanor led the board to adjourn so that his blood alcohol level could be tested. He was tested twice, first registering .185, then .20or two-and-a-half times the driving limit. The board deemed him too impaired to continue. The board was also concerned with the issue of perjury, in light of his testimony under oath that he hadn’t had a drink for four days.

The board recommended temporary suspension of Justin’s license to practice law. During the interval before the Kansas Supreme Court hearing on the suspension recommendation, Justin’s demeanor in another case caused the judge to order a urine test. He tested positive for morphine. His explanation, reminiscent of Elaine Benes’s plight in a Seinfeld episode, was that he had recently eaten poppy-seed muffins.

When Justin appeared before the Kansas Supreme Court on the board’s suspension recommendation, he admitted that his last drink had been the night before the disciplinary board hearing—not four nights before, as he had testified. He also acknowledged that he had driven himself to that hearing, despite the .20 blood alcohol level.

Counsel for the disciplinary board concluded her presentation to the Supreme Court with the observation that the respondent smelled of alcohol at that very moment.

The court granted the board’s motion to temporarily suspend Justin’s license to practice law. Seven days later Justin submitted a letter voluntarily surrendering his law license. Six days after that, the Supreme Court formally accepted the surrender but didn’t stop there. The court also issued an Order of Disbarment.

The case is In Re Justin K. Holstin, Supreme Court of Kansas.

Author

Norm Tabler is a retired lawyer in Indianapolis. He serves on the editorial advisory boards of the ABA Senior Lawyers Division’s Voice of Experience and the ABA Health Law Section’s The Health Lawyer and is host of the American Health Lawyers Association’s podcast, The Lighter Side of Health LawEmail Norm.