Supreme Court hears arguments over Rogers disbarment
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Members of West Virginia's Supreme Court questioned Tuesday whether a lawyer's convictions for having a man involuntarily committed to a mental health facility on false pretenses should cost him his law license.
A defense attorney for H. John Rogers, the targeted lawyer and a frequent political candidate, told the justices that the July 2009 incident reflected a common tactic used by Rogers.
"Herb Rogers did what he had done many, many times. He got a mental health warrant open so he could shock somebody into getting to sobriety," the defense lawyer, George Daugherty, said during Tuesday's hearing. "He got a mental health warrant against a friend hoping it would shock him into getting him to recovery. ... That's been utilized many, many times."
But senior counsel Andrea Hinerman, representing the state Lawyer Disciplinary Board, cited how Rogers pleaded no contest to false swearing and to misuse of the mental hygiene system. With those pleas, the New Martinsville lawyer did not admit guilt but chose not to challenge the case brought by prosecutors.
The case "clearly reflects adversely on his honesty, trustworthiness and fitness to practice law," Hinerman said.
Justice Menis Ketchum noted that Rogers was convicted of two misdemeanors. He and Justice Robin Davis questioned whether their court had annulled law licenses under such circumstances previously.
Hinerman cited several rulings involving both criminal convictions and "egregious facts." Ketchum disagreed that these prior cases were sufficiently similar to Rogers'. Davis also faulted Hinerman for not knowing the details of Rogers' unsuccessful appeal of his criminal convictions in circuit court.
According to Tuesday's arguments and written pleadings in the case, Rogers filed the petition after two run-ins with Jeffrey Shade, a Wetzel County coffee shop owner, one day in July 2009. Rogers alleged that Shade physically assaulted him each time. That led to the false swearing charge, as witness testimony suggested Rogers was the aggressor.
Rogers also alleged that Shade was suicidal and high on psychedelic drugs. Acting on Rogers' petition, sheriff's deputies detained Shade and took him to a secure facility in nearby Ohio County where he was held for several hours. After an exam and medical tests, including a drug screen that showed no signs of the drugs tested for, the petition against Shade was dismissed and he was released.
A grand jury indicted Rogers in January 2010, and he pleaded no contest in November 2011. A hearing panel considering the resulting ethics allegations recommended in March that Rogers' license be annulled, and that a psychiatrist examine Rogers and determine if he is fit to practice law before he petitions for his license's return.
Rogers, 73, ran for the Supreme Court last year, losing in the Democratic primary. A 1966 graduate of Harvard Law School, he has also run repeatedly for the state Senate and for governor, among other offices.
A self-described recovering alcoholic, Rogers has become known for publicity-seeking episodes during his campaigns. At a 1980 news conference he convened to declare he was running for U.S. Senate, Rogers punched a TV reporter in the face with cameras rolling after being asked about his own stay in a mental health facility.
Retired Justice Thomas McHugh sat in Tuesday for Chief Justice Brent Benjamin, who was disqualified from hearing the case.