.

State Court Disbars Walnut Creek Lawyer

Robert Wyatt, 72, pleaded guilty to vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated in the 2010 Rossmoor death of Edward Phillips.

A state bar court judge has disbarred Walnut Creek attorney Robert Wyatt, age 72, in a ruling that scrutinized Wyatt's conviction last year for vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.

Judge Lucy Armendariz of the State Bar Court of California, in a Feb. 13 decision, found the facts surrounding Wyatt's conviction in the Rossmoor traffic death of 85-year-old Edward Phillips "involved moral turpitude warranting discipline, and recommends that the respondent be disbarred." The accident occurred on Dec. 10, 2010.

Wyatt, himself a Rossmoor resident, pleaded no contest to vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated after a preliminary hearing in Contra Costa County Superior Court last year. and was ordered to pay victim restitution to Phillips' family, abstain from alcohol and had his driver's license revoked.

Armendariz was "incredulous" that Wyatt contended that "his high blood alcohol level was caused by his medications and the victim who was 85 years old jumped out in front of his car."

Phillips was on his way to a Rossmoor bus stop, presumably for a trip to a Chinese restaurant in downtown Walnut Creek, as was his habit.

Wyatt's consumption of vodka and beer that night "may have impaired his moral judgment and physical alertness," Armendariz wrote. "Nevertheless, he was not candid. Respondent attempted to justify his serious mistake and misrepresented to the police at the time of the accident that he only had one beer and that the victim streaked across in front of his car." Phillips walked with a cane, but had to be scolded by family members at times to use the cane.

The court noted that Wyatt had practiced law without discipline for 34 years at the time of the accident. He was an environmental lawyer and partner at Allen Matkins in San Francisco.

LamorindaMan February 28, 2013 at 06:57 AM
Moral turpitude? Wait. So, lawyers are supposed to have morals? Boy, that's news to me.
Chris Nicholson February 28, 2013 at 03:27 PM
In all seriousness, I don't think lawyers should be disbarred for conduct not directly related to their work for clients. Whatever the punishment is for DUI manslaughter (here three year's probation-- which admittedly seems light), why should lawyers suffer the additional penalty of a permanent ban on working in their field? Should Doctors and CPA's and hairdressers similarly get their "State permission to work" papers revoked in such cases? I understand that the penalty was applied in part due to the nature of his defense and not the conviction itself. But still, how is it appropriate to tell criminal defendants who are lawyers that, if they attempt to defend themselves it certain ways, they may forfeit their right to earn a living? Bizarre and unfair.
LamorindaMan February 28, 2013 at 04:08 PM
He shouldn't have been disbarred. Expecting lawyers to act with any sort of morals or integrity seems to be an unreasonably high standard that's most likely unachievable except in the rarest of cases. If we demanded moral and ethical behavior from lawyers, we wouldn't have any. Like it or not, lawyers are a necessary evil, like snakes.
Magic 8 ball February 28, 2013 at 04:33 PM
He got disbarred because he LIED about a material fact in a criminal investigation and he is now a convicted felon. I for one believe his out of court conduct directly affects his ability to be practicing attorney. How is the court, jury or client going to trust a person who lied not to mention the giant elephant in the room the felony conviction? Don't think for a moment that the felony conviction was not important to the BAR when they made their decision. As a lawyer, an officer of the court, he is a guardian of the law and must be of good morale character. He is held to a higher standard and he damn sure should have known it. PS: Life is not fair. The good guy doesn't always win and the bad guy doesn't always get their just deserts. In other words, fairness is in the eye of the beholder and has absolutely nothing to do with it.
Chris Nicholson February 28, 2013 at 04:46 PM
@Magic8: I am not saying that his conduct should not impact his career. But, in all other professions, the facts are there for all to consider in their dealings with people who have done wrong in the past. Doctors, etc., would not be fully blocked from practicing in their field. In terms of lying in court, it was in his capacity as a private citizen/defendant. Should all criminal defendants who lie in court suffer, in addition to the official penalty impose by the court, suffer a DRAMATICALLY more onerous penalty for lying about the underlying offense? Seems odd, no? What if he lied about an affair during his divorce? Disbarment? Court ordered unemployment? What if his non-lawyer spouse (suppose she is doctor) told identical lies? How should she suffer if revealed (beyond action in the case itself)? Lots of professions rely on personal integrity/honesty/credibility, and yet we do not typically use the power of the state to terminate their careers for actions outside their professional capacity. Not defending this guy's conduct, but am arguing for a bit more proportionality / equity for lawyers versus others. That life is not fair does not mean that we should not highlight unfairness.
The Merry One February 28, 2013 at 06:32 PM
@LamorindaMan: I find it amusing that people that complain the most about legal ethics and attorney morales are often the ones that run to them the fastest when they're in trouble. It's unfair to characterize an entire group of people by the actions of a few. There are good and bad in every profession. In the case of Mr. Wyatt, I believe it was the gravity of his offense, coupled with his deceit in trying to blame the victim, that caused his disbarrment. How could be ever be trusted again to uphold the law?
Magic 8 ball February 28, 2013 at 06:33 PM
Is there some disconnect here or what? The guy did not tell a social lie like does this dress make me look fat. He lied about a MATERIAL FACT in a criminal investigation. You know something actually important where a lie could cost someone their life. He is an officer of court who is expected to tell the truth. You don't get to have sliding morals. Is it OK for a Judge to lie about a material fact "off bench"? How about a police officer? So according to you a lawyer who practices law in a court of law can lie so long as it's "off-duty". I can see jury instructions now. The Jury will disregard the Lawyer's felony conviction and his lying about material facts in an official police investigation. It's OK, he has morals, he only lies while off duty - you can trust him. I could careless if the head fry cook at McDonald's lies. His job does not depend on his credibility and the public doesn't depend and demand that his credibility be beyond reproach. Lawyers, judges and police officers are expected to tell the truth or we don't trust them. Once we lose faith in the system it breaks down. If you're not defending his actions you most certainly are trying to excuse them. Try and accept responsibility for your actions. He voluntarily lied to the police, got convicted and got disbarred. HIS CHOICE. He also lost his ability to hold public office, hold a position of public trust, and own a firearm.
LamorindaMan February 28, 2013 at 07:06 PM
@The Merry One: "It's unfair to characterize an entire group of people by the actions of a few."----> This is America. We do this all the time. I think it's a law or in the Constitution or something. Also. Lighten up. My post is clearly a joke. You do know Shakespeare wasn't serious, right? Please. No harming lawyers. It's against the law.
LamorindaMan February 28, 2013 at 07:08 PM
So your point is that this guy looks fat when he wears dresses?
Magic 8 ball February 28, 2013 at 07:43 PM
LamorindaMan --- you have an elegant way of cutting to the chase...
One more time with feeling March 01, 2013 at 05:31 PM
A person was killed. This was not an "accident". According to the rules & oath under which Mr. Wyatt worked, being disbarred is appropriate. Pay attention, City Hall 3rd floor. We have endured too many injuries & deaths because of DUI impairment. Stop inundating citizens with "entertainment is good" or "Walnut Creek is an enviable city" - we get it - we know it - we live here. We already know we're not supposed to pay attention to the person behind the curtain (though some of us will continue to pull that curtain open). Please heed Chief Bryden's recent recommendation of no more alcohol permits... better yet, reduce existing permits. City Hall's support of alcohol-fueled galas celebrating "The Arts" & allowing the high density of alcohol permits appears to condone the actions of Mr. Wyatt and others. Perception is reality. Push a real public awareness campaign: Second Saturday (night) Spotlight... DON'T DRINK AND DRIVE. Not a Police Department-only, DUI checkpoint, activity. This is top-to-bottom, set-an-example, make-lots-of-noise, wake-up-call, to ALL of us... citizens and visitors alike. City Hall *must* lead this - that *is* what "Community Outreach" does. One might have hoped living behind the gates of a gated community would not have this sort of result. As will all similar cases, *many* more than two lives are negatively impacted, forever. A moment of silence for those killed because of this preventable cause. Rest in Peace, Mr. Phillips.
Chris Nicholson March 01, 2013 at 05:59 PM
Should the minimum punishment for vehicular manslaughter (for ALL perps) include a permanent prohibition against working in their current field? If not, then why are lawyers different? I'd be OK with mandatory disclosure of the crime, and then let clients decide if they want to hire the guy (again, if such disclosure requirement applied to ALL perps). Criminal law should mete out punishment equitably. Disclosure should allow the private sector to sort out the rest.
Magic 8 ball March 01, 2013 at 06:49 PM
Fortunately Nicholson you don't get to make these decisions.
Andrew L. March 01, 2013 at 08:01 PM
It's noteworthy that both the California Legislature and Supreme Court disagree with Mr. Nicholson on this point and have for decades. Their reasoning is spelled out very clearly (including in the decision disbarring Wyatt, which is publicly available), and was well summarized by Mr. 8 ball.
Chris Nicholson March 01, 2013 at 08:13 PM
I am arguing normatively. I do not dispute what the laws/rules ARE, I dispute whether they SHOULD be this way. In 2013, I think clients/customers (and not the government or its agencies) should be given the right to decide who they hire/deal with.
One more time with feeling March 01, 2013 at 08:28 PM
@ Chris Nicholson, I don't think "the minimum punishment for vehicular manslaughter (for ALL perps) include a permanent prohibition against working in their current field?" is appropriate. I think at issue here is that being a bona-fide member of the California Bar means playing by their rules. From the above article, Judge Lucy Armendariz found Mr. Wyatt was not playing by their rules. Vehicular manslaughter did not cause Mr. Wyatt's dis-barring. Said the Judge, "Nevertheless, he was not candid. Respondent attempted to justify his serious mistake and misrepresented to the police at the time of the accident that he only had one beer and that the victim streaked across in front of his car." Driving under the influence started the roll down the slippery slope. Not being forthcoming when speaking to the Police caused the dis-barring action. It is sad, though. 34 years in any industry is a long time. Being successful enough to drive a Bentley (follow the links back through Patch) - he was likely very good at what he did.
Chris Nicholson March 01, 2013 at 08:42 PM
I just read the order. A seemingly slam-dunk manslaughter case. But common sense suggests that lies told by a criminal defendant in his own defense are less predictive of future professional conduct than lies told in his professional capacity. Also, the rules say that moral turpitude question turns on the nature of the crime, not the false statements / callous actions said/taken AFTER the commission of the crime. He was not convicted of perjury. He was convicted of manslaughter. In addition to my continuing objection to the wisdom of the rules, I think the guy has a decent shot at an appeal here a the case seems to have been wrongly reasoned/decided. In terms of predictive power of future integrity, I think a lie told by a criminal defendant is in the same category as a lie to conceal an affair. Notwithstanding the above, the guy sounds like a bad guy and deserved a stiffer punishment than probation. If some cases of manslaughter are morally worse than others (and, therefore, the Bar need to sort through which ones deserve disbarment), I find it odd that he got what must amount to near/below the minimum penalty in criminal court, but the maximum penalty from the bar. Odd indeed.
Andrew L. March 01, 2013 at 09:00 PM
<blockquote>I am arguing normatively. I do not dispute what the laws/rules ARE, I dispute whether they SHOULD be this way.</blockquote> I understand that. My point is that those institutions who have more on the line with this issue and have dealt with it intimately are in 180-degree disagreement with you and have illustrated clearly why the rules and laws are as they are. Your argument does not address these, it is simply based on your belief that a crime that you think has no bearing or relationship to their profession should not cause them to lose their rights to practice that profession. <blockquote>In 2013, I think clients/customers (and not the government or its agencies) should be given the right to decide who they hire/deal with.</blockquote> Then what you are really arguing and this is perhaps a better argument, is that bar associations should not exist. But the fact is that both entry into and exit from the legal profession as a lawyer is regulated by each of the 50 states.
Andrew L. March 01, 2013 at 09:06 PM
@Chris, it is not that some cases of manslaughter are morally worse than others, it was whether or not they involved "moral turpitude", which can be determined from actions taken after the commission of the crime, contrary to your claim above (note the use of the word "circumstances" by the court). From the disbarment decision: "The court finds that the circumstances surrounding respondent's vehicular manslaughter conviction involved moral turpitude because of his disregard of the law and the safety of the public by drinking and then driving with a BAC of .18%, thus causing the death of Phillips; because he left the victim alone in the street; and because of his misrepresentations to the police that he only had one beer and that an 85 year old pedestrian with a cane suddenly streaked across in front of his car."
Chris Nicholson March 01, 2013 at 09:22 PM
@Andrew: IMHO, the Bar can exist-- but membership should not be required to practice law. Your argument re: moral turpitude is circular inasmuch as you quote the judge's ruling as evidence for its correctness. Yet the authority she cites does not support your/her conclusion. The common factors are only that he was on notice that his conduct created risk (like the guy with bad vision). Duh. Volitional consumption of alcohol is an element of the crime he was convicted of. If he did not intend to drink, we would not have committed manslaughter (unless his bad driving were unrelated to his drinking). If it weren't for the minor issue of me not being an active member of the bar, I might offer to represent him on appeal pro bono.
Dive Turn Work March 01, 2013 at 10:30 PM
I have no particular affection for Mr. Nicholson & seriously doubt whether he would care if someone else's personal info was posted in such a manor, nevertheless i am compelled to say that comment about his bar information is irrelevant & mean-spirited & should be deleted by either the commenter or Patch staff.
c5 March 01, 2013 at 10:32 PM
Magic 8, I can't believe you would post personal details here just to make a point, one that the above info may or may not have anything to do with. In this case, it sounds like it does not.
Chris Nicholson March 01, 2013 at 11:06 PM
But why post it? Pleas post your full name and professional credentials. You speak strenuously for honor, integrity and personal responsibility. Let's see it.
Chris Nicholson March 01, 2013 at 11:54 PM
But why? Creepy. And why post the results? Double creepy. Is it dangerous to talk to my neighbors using my real name on a local forum? PERSEC? What are you, a cop from a nearby town?
Andrew L. March 01, 2013 at 11:57 PM
The judge's ruling is by definition correct unless and until is overturned on appeal, which is extremely unlikely.
Dive Turn Work March 02, 2013 at 01:36 AM
Using your name is dangerous. This is a perfect example.
Dive Turn Work March 02, 2013 at 01:44 AM
In his defense he has admitted on several occasions that he's an attorney & that he no longer practices law. I don't believe he's embarrassed by your post. People with a bully personality are rarely embarrassed by anything. However, I still don't think it's good form to post that info. It's petty & just stifles conversation.
Chris Nicholson March 02, 2013 at 02:02 AM
@Magic8: Umm, a decade after I stopped practicing law, I decided (without a lot of thought) to stop paying my bar dues. I didn't see the point. If I wanted to practice law again, I write a check for $1100 and I am instantly good to go (I just confirmed that today out of curiosity-- not something I plan on doing). It's annoying that the Bar reports my status as "suspended" (but at least they specify that it is for non payment of dues) and is troubling that you sought this information. I see now that you wrongly and recklessly thought it would be clever to share this info thereby revealing an imagined bias. I have lots of biases, but none of them are hidden. Do you not find it at least a bit kooky that you are still posting more personal info about me online? To what end?
SympatheticCitizen March 03, 2013 at 05:36 AM
Chris, dude, if anything is bizarre at all, it's YOU..and your logic is super weak sauce. Not allowing an attorney to pratice law because he violated the law is wrong to you? OMG you're such an incredible weirdo. If you practice law and you BREAK it, you should get extra penalities, let alone the revocation of your ability to practice law...and yes, when MD's break the law in relationship to practicing medicine they do get their license revoked and are not allowed top practice medicine anymore. But you are supposed to know that since you think you know everything anyway. Get a grip dude. You are friggin blow hard. End of story.

Boards

More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something
See more »