California Bar Journal
OFFICIAL PUBLICATION OF THE STATE BAR OF CALIFORNIA - JULY 2001
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California Bar Journal

The State Bar of California


REGULARS

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Front Page - July 2001
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News / News Briefs
Two-year fee bill goes to governor
Janet Reno, low-cost MCLE highlight Annual Meeting
Stanley Mosk dies at 88
State Bar wins ABA's Harrison Tweed Award for pro bono, legal access, IOLTA efforts
Foundation will accept grant applications beginning July 16
Winnebago of justice serves those on the road less traveled
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Trials Digest
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Legal Tech - Matter management is not just for litigators
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Opinion
From the President - Public members bring fresh views
Holding judges accountable
Letters to the Editor
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MCLE Self-Study
Alcohol and the workplace
Self-Assessment Test
MCLE Calendar of Events
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Ethics update...
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You Need to Know
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Public Comment
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Discipline
Ethics Byte - Level field or a judicial practical joke?
Former DA disbarred for drunken-driving coverup
Attorney Discipline

DISCIPLINE

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Former DA disbarred for drunken-driving coverup

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A former district attorney with a history of driving drunk was disbarred March 28, 2001, after covering up his involvement in an alcohol-fueled accident with the aid of a client. WILLIAM RANDOLPH NEILL [#43582], 59, of Los Angeles also was ordered to comply with rule 955 of the California Rules of Court. He made the unusual move of stipulating to disbarment after the State Bar Court found he engaged in an elaborate coverup and insurance scam begin-ning in 1994, when he crashed his flatbed truck on a stretch of highway in Trinity County.

Neill, who served as the rural northern California county's district attorney from 1972 to 1979, had three prior convictions for drunken driving, all stemming from arrests in 1986. In one case, he ran his pickup truck off the road and crashed into a tree.

After two of the convictions, Neill was suspended from practice, stayed, and placed on probation for two years by the State Bar Court.

On Dec. 26, 1994, Neill lost control of a vehicle for the second time. His 1967 Ford pickup spun out on a dark mountain road, crashing into an embankment and coming to rest in an oncoming traffic lane.

Police found Neill about an hour later, lying on an embankment about 1,000 feet from the accident scene. He was disheveled, bloodied and apparently drunk. Neill claimed he was a passenger in the truck, not the driver, but police arrested him on suspicion of driving under the influence. Tests showed his blood-alcohol level was as high as .22 percent, nearly three times the legal limit.

The next day, Neill asked a client - a male family friend he was representing in a marital dissolution and child-custody case - to take responsibility for the accident. Neill helped the client and the client's mother prepare and submit written statements to the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

The statements indicated the client was driving the truck when the accident happened and that Neill was only a passenger. Neill's then-girlfriend backed the story with another false statement. The former district attorney also gave false testimony at two DMV hearings as he sought to have his driver's license reinstated.

The client was convicted of misdemeanor hit and run. Neill was exonerated.

In September1995, Neill filed a small-claims action against the client, winning a $5,021 judgment from the client's insurance company. Neill later told the bar court he used the proceeds to pay off the client for taking the blame, but the man said he was never paid.

The coverup unraveled when the insurance company began investigating and Neill's relationship with the client soured.

"He was getting away with it until, for whatever reason, (the client) became unhappy with the situation," said State Bar prosecutor Kristin Ritsema.

Three years after Neill filed the insurance claim, the attorney general's office filed six felony charges against him.

Neill accepted a plea agreement in 1999, pleading guilty to one count of preparing false documentary evidence in connection with the DMV statements. He received a suspended three-year jail sentence and was placed on probation.

Neill was in trouble with the bar in 1998 when he stipulated that he failed to deposit client funds in a client trust account or pay out the funds promptly. He had issued a check to a client, but the balance in his trust account fell below zero four times and the client was unable to negotiate the check. When Neill heard about the returned check, he acknowledged his failure to oversee his trust account and made restitution with interest.

In addition, he was found guilty of contempt charges in 1997 after he failed to appear at a hearing for a client and did not appear at his own contempt hearing. He received a one-year stayed suspension and was placed on probation for 30 months by the bar.

Neill also was given a stayed suspension and placed on two years of probation in 1990 as the result of a no contest plea to driving under the influence with a prior.