Supreme Court of Colorado, Presiding Disciplinary Judge
Following a reinstatement hearing, a hearing board concluded that Charles Eugene Kline (Attorney Registration Number 14639) should be granted reinstatement to the practice of law under C.R.C.P. 251.29 and C.R.C.P. 251.30.
Kline sought reinstatement to the bar both from his discipline and from disability inactive status. In 2011, he was transferred to disability inactive status following his hospitalization due to chronic abuse of alcohol. In a later disciplinary proceeding, Kline stipulated to a three-year suspension for converting client funds during a period when he was heavily dependent on alcohol.
Kline proved by clear and convincing evidence that he has been sober for four and a half years, his disability has been removed, and he is competent to resume the practice of law. Kline also proved that he has experienced a change in his character and orientation since his misconduct that makes him worthy of reinstatement from disciplinary suspension. Please see the full opinion below.
WILLIAM R. LUCERO, PRESIDING DISCIPLINARY JUDGE, WADI MUHAISEN, HEARING BOARD MEMBER, JAMIE J. ROTH, JAMIE J. ROTH.
OPINION AND DECISION GRANTING REINSTATEMENT FROM DISABILITY INACTIVE STATUS UNDER C.R.C.P. 251.30(b) AND GRANTING REINSTATEMENT FROM DISCIPLINE UNDER C.R.C.P. 251.29(e)
Charles Eugene Kline (" Petitioner" ) seeks reinstatement to the bar after a four-and-a-half-year hiatus from the practice of law. In 2011, he was transferred to disability inactive status following a period of hospitalization due to his chronic abuse of alcohol. In a later disciplinary proceeding, Petitioner stipulated to a three-year suspension for converting client funds during a period when he was heavily dependent on alcohol. In these consolidated proceedings, he now seeks reinstatement to the bar both from his discipline and from disability inactive status. Petitioner has proved by clear and convincing evidence that he has been sober for four and a half years, his disability has been removed, and he is competent to resume the practice of law. Petitioner has also proved that he has experienced a change in his character and orientation since his misconduct that makes him worthy of reinstatement from disciplinary suspension.
I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Petitioner took the oath of admission and was sworn in to the bar of the Colorado Supreme Court on May 29, 1985, under attorney registration number 14639. On July 7, 2011, Presiding Disciplinary Judge William R. Lucero (" the PDJ" ) approved an unopposed petition in case number 11PDJ054 to transfer Petitioner to disability inactive status, effective that same day. On June 15, 2012, Petitioner was suspended for three years as a disciplinary sanction in case number 12PDJ026.
Petitioner filed " [Petitioner's] Petition for Order of Reinstatement of License to Practice Law After Transfer to Disability Inactive Status Pursuant to C.R.C.P. 251.30 et seq. (Disability)" on July 8, 2015. That matter was assigned case number 15PDJ051. The same day, he also filed " [Petitioner's] Verified Petition for Order of Reinstatement of License to Practice Law After Suspension Pursuant to C.R.C.P. 251.29 et seq. (Discipline)." That matter was assigned case number 15PDJ052. Kim E. Ikeler, of the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel (" the People" ), answered both petitions on July 10, 2015. On his own initiative, the PDJ consolidated the two cases on July 28, 2015, with both matters to be heard together in one trial setting by one hearing board. At a scheduling conference held July 29, 2015, the parties agreed that the consolidated proceedings would be treated as public, save for any
material subject to protective orders, which the PDJ pledged to grant liberally when requested. Aside from material subject to protective orders, Petitioner waived any confidentiality surrounding his disability matter.
On November 9, 2015, a Hearing Board comprising Wadi Muhaisen and Jamie J. Roth, members of the bar, and the PDJ held a combined discipline and disability reinstatement hearing. Petitioner appeared pro se, and Ikeler attended on behalf of the People. The Hearing Board heard testimony from Marc Kelly, Leslie Glover, Ellen Kline, Cherie Winnicki, Robert Winnicki, Kimberly Kline, Dietmar Schott, Dr. Gregory Kirk, Arthur Patterson, and Petitioner. The PDJ admitted stipulated exhibits 1-5.
At the hearing, the People acknowledged that no significant evidence suggests that Petitioner will relapse. While they questioned whether a renaissance has taken place in other aspects of his character, they declined to take any position as to whether Petitioner should be reinstated to the practice of law.
II. FINDINGS OF FACT
The findings of fact here, aside from that portion describing Petitioner's disciplinary record, are drawn from testimony offered at the reinstatement hearing, where not otherwise noted.
Events Leading to Petitioner's Suspension
Petitioner was born into a large family headed by an alcoholic father and a mother who, in her own words, " enabled" her husband's drinking. In high school, Petitioner drank heavily, up to eight beers in a night. His alcohol use varied in college and, later, when he attended law school in San Diego. He earned his J.D. in 1984, was admitted to the bar in 1985, and pursued a career in civil litigation, knowing that he wanted to be a solo practitioner. He established his own firm in Longmont, hired a staff, and started a family with his ex-wife, Kimberly Kline, who also worked for him as a paralegal.
Petitioner described his astonishment, once he struck out on his own, at the tremendous amount of freedom he experienced in so many areas of his life. He was his own boss, he called his own shots, and he did as he saw fit, a practice that he carried to an " illogical and unethical extreme." Despite this newfound freedom, Petitioner never was comfortable in his own skin and began to feel hemmed in by an internal compulsion to project an appearance of success. His friend and fellow lawyer Arthur Patterson described him as the guy who wanted " the fanciest car and the biggest office." Kimberly Kline noted that theirs was a lifestyle designed to " keep up with the Joneses." Without exception, his family members--and at least two of his close friends--described Petitioner before 2011 in pejorative terms: as lacking humility, self-absorbed, standoffish, caustic, arrogant, and more concerned about how things looked than with " the stuff on the inside."
Petitioner explained that though he yearned to achieve success, he could not describe specifically what would constitute its attainment, and he lost direction and perspective in the hunt for ever more money. " I had everything in the world going for me," he recalled, including a lovely wife, two kids, and a beautiful home, " but it wasn't enough, and I don't know if I ever could have found it." There was something elusive he needed, he said, but he could not " put his finger" on what that thing was. To avoid addressing this void in a constructive way, Petitioner turned to alcohol, which " blur[red]" the feeling and " t[ook] care of" the compulsion, at least temporarily.
Petitioner's life thus proceeded along two diverging but linked tracks: on the one, he continued to earn more money, to achieve more material success, and to take on larger financial investments; on the other, he imbibed greater amounts of alcohol with more frequency. Petitioner built a wine cellar and bar in his basement and installed a wet bar in his law office, using alcohol to " manage anxiety and assuage dissatisfactions in his marriage," according to Dr. Gregory Kirk, an expert in addiction psychiatry.
Things seemed to come to a head after the financial collapse in 2008. Petitioner had sunk more than one million dollars into a lakeside home, and had invested sizably in the development of several commercial properties, one of which housed his office suite. After the meltdown, Petitioner's tenants could not make rent and moved out; he was left facing the prospect of defaulting on multiple loans. His law practice faltered, and he worried about making payroll for his associates. These stressors, along with marital issues, contributed to his increased dependence on alcohol.
Petitioner began to spiral out of control. As his ex-wife testified, he drank " for good things, for bad things, for everyday average things." He drank himself " into a stupor every night," remembered Robert Winnicki, husband of Cherie Winnicki, one of Petitioner's sisters. Petitioner himself recalled using alcohol " as a medicinal means of achieving a normal existence," resorting to the bottle as a cure for hangovers. Petitioner first moved into a bedroom in his basement, near the bar he had installed, and later moved out of his house and into the Winnickis'. He drank more at work. And he began to deposit client money directly into his operating account, using that money for his own purposes. During that time Petitioner would often wonder, " what is it going to take to stop?," knowing that nothing save a DUI, an accident, or a medical event would get his attention and compel him to reexamine his behavior.
His body gave out before he hurt someone else. On the morning of June 25, 2011, Petitioner woke up and walked to the kitchen. While staring into the refrigerator, he experienced an unexpected sense of warmth. He looked down to find blood streaming down his legs. In the bathroom, he filled a toilet with blood, and then he soaked through towel after towel. Petitioner drove himself to the Longmont United Hospital emergency room, where he was treated for internal hemorrhaging resulting from liver failure. Dr. Kirk explained that Petitioner's drinking had put enormous strain on certain venous areas of his lower gastrointestinal tract, causing them to bleed. This bleeding is consistent with very heavy use of alcohol.
Sedated for much of his ten-day hospital stay, Petitioner suffered from delirium tremens and hallucinations. But around his fifth day in the ICU, Petitioner began to realize how close to death he had come. He also realized that he if chose to live, that choice by its very definition would have to mean a life without alcohol. He told his family, " I choose life." As Petitioner testified, from that day forward he has not deviated from that mantra: since his admission to the hospital, he has maintained sobriety.
On July 5, 2011, Petitioner was released from the hospital after several surgeries, which were not completely successful in staunching his rectal bleeding. He went to convalesce at the home of his mother, Ellen Kline, but his bleeding continued and then worsened. During that time--on July 7, 2011--Petitioner stipulated to transfer to disability inactive status in case number 11PDJ054, acknowledging that he was unable to fulfill his professional responsibilities. Soon thereafter he was admitted to Boulder Community Hospital, where he endured two additional surgeries that finally stopped his bleeding. Back at his mother's house, he took a long time to regain his strength, to begin to walk again, and to monitor his own medications. During that time, Petitioner worked on improving his family relationships and engaged in introspection. He spent a lot of time " alone, soul searching," he says, " asking myself how  anyone in their right mind . . . could allow all of that [good fortune] to slip right through their fingers."
In June 2012, Petitioner stipulated to a three-year suspension in case number 12PDJ026, acknowledging that he had engaged in misconduct in thirteen client matters. Petitioner agreed that he knowingly converted over $45,000.00 in unearned client retainers in violation of Colo. RPC 1.15(a) (2008), which requires a lawyer to keep client funds separate from the lawyer's own property, and Colo. RPC 8.4(c), proscribing conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or ...