Done right, the first time
Written by John Brangwin
Tuesday, 01 December 2009 21:50

The Washington State Bar Association publishes a magazine each month for its members.  It is called the Bar News.  By far the most read section of the Bar News is the “Disciplinary Notices”.  The Notices detail lawyer misdeeds and the punishment the lawyer received, from disbarment to admonition.  Do not worry, there are roughly 30,000 lawyers in Washington and only a small number are disciplined each year. 

One notice, in the October 2009 edition, caught my eye.  A lawyer from Grant County, Washington (a county where I frequently handle DUI cases) was suspended from practicing law for 60 days.  

The short version is that the lawyer did not know how to properly handle a DUI case, specifically the Department of Licensing (DOL) hearing, and as a result his client, probably wrongfully, lost his license.

In DUI cases there are two ways the driver can lose his license:  By being convicted or administratively (or both).  In this case the lawyer was able to successfully negotiate his client’s DUI charge down to a crime that did not result in license suspension; certainly good work.  However, the DOL still intended to suspend his client’s license administratively.  The lawyer apparently did not know that a reduction in court does not stop the DOL from proceeding.  There actually are some limited ways to use what happened in court to bar the DOL from suspending, but the charge being reduced is not one of them.  

The lawyer wrote to DOL wondering if the hearing was still necessary based on the criminal charge having been reduced.  The lawyer then, inexplicably, withdrew the hearing request and his client’s license was promptly suspended. 

I suspect this lawyer did not handle many DUI cases.  I do not know the lawyer (his name is printed in the notice) and I had never heard of him before his suspension from practicing law.  Given how often I am in the courts where DUI cases are handled, if I have not at least heard of the lawyer it is a bad sign. 

Many lawyers take on DUI cases but few are really equipped to handle them.  The man in this case eventually hired a competent lawyer, but by that time it was too late.  You can tell a good DUI lawyer based on their experience and training. 

Of course, hiring a seasoned and knowledgeable attorney costs money, more money than hiring someone who doesn’t know what they are doing.  But for this man, losing his license also meant  he needed expensive high-risk insurance for three years.  He also hired a second attorney, and although that attorney was not successful I am sure he charged the man.  Last, perhaps this man even lost his job because he could not drive to work with his license suspended.  I have to believe he actually would have saved money had he done it right the first time.  And “done right” in a DUI case means hiring a well qualified attorney.

John Brangwin is a partner in the Wenatchee law firm of Woods & Brangwin, PLLC and concentrates on defending those accused of DUI.  He is ranked “superb” by Avvo, an attorney rating firm.  He is certified by the manufacturer of the BAC DataMaster to operate and calibrate the instrument, and even owns one.  He is trained in Standardized Field Sobriety Tests and has other advanced training relevant to DUI Defense.  Finally, he is a member of the National College for DUI Defense, the Washington Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys and the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys. 


The discipline notice may be viewed at: