California Attorney Jordan Tonya Louise Peters​​​​​​​: Disbarment Recommended for A Crime Of Moral Turpitude

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Attorney Peters killed someone in a DUI car accident situation. Such situations should require an immediate Disbarment.

California Attorney Jordan Tonya Louise Peters: Disbarment Recommended for A Crime Of Moral Turpitude​​​​​​​

A published opinion of the California State Bar Court Review Department recommends disbarment for a criminal conviction

On April 30, 2013, Jordan Tonya Louise Peters was driving under the influence of prescription drugs when, without braking, she rear-ended a car stopped at a traffic light. The other driver was seriously injured and the other driver’s passenger, her 69-year-old husband, died. On her plea of nolo contendere, Peters was convicted of felony vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated without gross negligence.

Disbarment is the presumed sanction for a felony conviction in which the surrounding facts and circumstances involve moral turpitude, unless the most compelling mitigating circumstances clearly predominate. A hearing judge found that the facts and circumstances surrounding Peters’s conviction involved moral turpitude, and, not finding compelling mitigation, recommended disbarment.

Peters appeals. She argues that the facts and circumstances surrounding her crime did not involve moral turpitude and her mitigating circumstances are entitled to more credit. She contends that a two-year actual suspension would be sufficient to preserve the integrity of the profession and protect the public. The Office of Chief Trial Counsel of the State Bar (OCTC) requests that we affirm the disbarment recommendation.

Upon our independent review (Cal. Rules of Court, rule 9.12), we find the facts of the conviction involve moral turpitude, and the mitigating circumstances are not compelling. We can discern no reason from this record to deviate from the applicable disciplinary standard, and thus affirm the disbarment recommendation.

The attorney had a history of prescription drug abuse and had ceased practice in 2012 due to stress.

On April 30, 2013, Peters picked up a Neurontin refill and then went to her office at the construction company at which she was employed at the time, worked on several projects and interacted with colleagues. At trial, she admitted that between 9:18 a.m. and 2:00 p.m., she took six or seven Neurontin pills—more than her full day’s prescribed dose—in roughly five hours. She also had several other prescription drugs in her system, including tramadol, another pain medication prescribed by her primary care doctor. She testified that she did not feel impaired and felt no different that day than any other day.

Unexpectedly, Peters was called around 3:15 p.m. to pick up her son and left work earlier than planned. Three eyewitnesses who observed her driving testified at trial. Making a left turn, on a Roseville, California street, Peters veered right across four lanes, and drove up and over a curb and sidewalk until all four tires were on a grassy area beyond the sidewalk. Peters recalled striking only the curb. Without stopping, she returned to the road and swerved left across three lanes toward the center median. She then swung back over to the right-hand curb, almost came to a stop, but did not. She continued to drive at varying speeds for another half-mile. Her driving was so erratic and worrisome that two drivers behind her turned on their emergency flashers to try to slow traffic and to warn others, and one of them called 911.

Around 3:40 p.m., Peters was traveling at approximately 50 to 60 miles per hour when, without braking, she rear-ended one of several cars stopped at a red light. Bonnie Weaver was the driver of that car and her husband of over 48 years, Robert Weaver, was the front seat passenger. The impact crushed the back half of the Weavers’ car, leaving nothing behind the front seats. The couple suffered grave injuries and were transported to the hospital. Robert died hours later. Bonnie survived, but continues to suffer from her injuries, as discussed in detail below in aggravation. Peters’s erratic driving also set off a chain of events that caused a separate collision involving three other cars, resulting in injuries to two other victims.

She pled no contest to the criminal charge.

On moral turpitude

Peters argues that she should not be found culpable of moral turpitude, primarily because she did not know she was addicted to Neurontin nor did she feel impaired the day of the collision. However, her contention does not correctly reflect the test for moral turpitude. The test is whether the facts and circumstances surrounding her criminal conduct show either “a deficiency in any character trait necessary for the practice of law (such as trustworthiness, honesty, fairness, candor, and fidelity to fiduciary duties)” or involve “such a serious breach of a duty owed to another or to society, or such a flagrant disrespect for the law or for societal norms, that knowledge of the attorney’s conduct would be likely to undermine public confidence in and respect for the legal profession...

Peters had an admitted history of being unable to control her prescription drug use, which prompted one physician to cease treating her. Though she stopped using Norco in 2012, she took Neurontin contrary to direction for nine to 12 months prior to the collision. On the day of the crash, Peters knowingly took six or seven Neurontin pills—more than her full day’s prescribed dose—in about five hours. Despite having previously felt sedated by the drug, she still chose to drive. For nearly a mile, she traversed widely across multiple lanes but did not stop, even after she ran all four tires of her car over the curb and onto the grass. Instead, she continued driving at approximately 50 to 60 miles per hour, and, without braking, rear-ended the Weavers’ stopped car. She destroyed their car, killed Robert, gravely injured Bonnie, and injured others.

While the board gave some mitigating weight to her 19-year discipline-free career, little was given to her depression and drug abuse

We applaud Peters’s rehabilitation efforts, both voluntary and mandatory. Yet, given her years-long history of abuse, her earlier resistance to seeking treatment, and that she only began her treatment just over two years ago, we find, for the purposes of attorney discipline, that Peters has started but not completed rehabilitation.

Despite remorse and favorable character evidence

While she had a 19-year discipline-free career before the collision, her rehabilitation is in its early phase, and we find she has not shown her misconduct is unlikely to recur. For the same reason, her crime is not fully mitigated by her physical and emotional problems. These mitigating factors, together with her moderate evidence of good character, pro bono and community service, and remorse, and her limited credit for cooperation do not constitute compelling mitigation. They fall far short of predominating, given her extremely serious misconduct and the profound harm she caused. Anything less than disbarment would fail to protect the public and undermine its confidence in the legal profession. Thus, before Peters is entitled to resume practicing law, she should be required to demonstrate in a reinstatement proceeding by clear and convincing evidence, her rehabilitation and exemplary conduct over an extended period of time.

Source: Professional Legal Blog