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In the Matter of Reinstatement of Whitworth
Oklahoma Supreme Court
2011 Okla. 79, 261 P.3d 1173 (2011)
Addiction wrecked attorney John Whitworth’s personal and professional lives. He developed liver disease, became homeless, went long stretches without seeing his two sons, and neglected work even more than family. After Whitworth failed to respond to misconduct allegations, the Oklahoma Bar Association set a disciplinary hearing to suspend him from practice. A couple of months before the hearing, blood tests revealed that Whitworth’s liver condition would soon require hospitalization. Whitworth “reached bottom” and called his mother. He admitted his illness resulted from addiction to methamphetamines and alcohol and stayed with his father, who nursed him back to health. When Whitworth’s son asked on the way to the hearing if Whitworth would keep his license, Whitworth answered, “[i]f there’s any justice in the world, son, no. No. We’re going to go down and we’re going to tell them the truth.” Whitworth testified about his addictions and conceded he could not practice. The Oklahoma Supreme Court suspended him for two years based on unfitness as well as misconduct, effective almost two years before the hearing. Whitworth obtained treatment through Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and did not practice during his suspension but earned credits in continuing legal education. About four years total after the effective date of his suspension, Whitworth petitioned for reinstatement. The Professional Responsibility Tribunal (PRT) held a hearing. Witnesses testified that Whitworth had been very candid about his addictions and suspension and became heavily involved in AA. When he discovered he had a daughter, he represented himself pro se in the paternity proceeding, gained custody, and rented a house for himself and all three children. Whitworth planned to resume practice by continuing to work at home-improvement store Lowe’s on weekends while taking cases from local attorneys, allowing him to provide stability and predictability for his family. He said he had stayed sober and accepted full accountability as essential to his recovery. When asked about relapse, Whitworth said AA had given him tools to deal with stresses and that relapse was not “part of the equation.” Finally, Whitworth had passed every random drug test taken and repaid the costs of the proceedings against him. The PRT recommended reinstatement.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Watt, J.)
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