February 20, 2009 - 10:00 pm
The Nevada Supreme Court has suspended Douglas Crawford for five years, rejecting a recommendation to disbar the longtime Las Vegas attorney who stole nearly $400,000 from clients to support his gambling and drug addictions.
Crawford, 53, was temporarily suspended in May 2007 and later admitted to 65 violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct, primarily involving the misappropriation of client funds.
In April, a State Bar of Nevada disciplinary panel unanimously recommended disbarment for Crawford, who obtained his law license in 1985.
“If this were to happen even one more time to an innocent client whose life savings were lost due to an act of Mr. Crawford, it would be a black stain upon the State Bar and the attorneys who abide, on a daily basis, to the professional ethics of that organization which could never be erased,” according to the panel’s order in April. “The risk is too great and, therefore, after much soul searching and discussion, it is the final decision of this panel that Mr. Crawford be disbarred as an attorney and refused the opportunity to ever practice law in this jurisdiction again.”
An attempt to reach Crawford on Thursday through his attorney, Michael Warhola, was unsuccessful.
The Supreme Court reviewed the disciplinary panel’s recommendation and issued its suspension order Wednesday, the day the suspension took effect.
“We conclude that the mitigating circumstances outweigh the aggravating circumstances, and as a result, a five-year suspension is the appropriate discipline,” the court ruled.
Mitigating factors included Crawford’s good character and reputation, remorse, and “mental disabilities of depression and gambling addiction.”
According to the order, Crawford must pass the bar exam again before applying for reinstatement. He also must “maintain his gambling recovery efforts” and pay restitution for the funds he misappropriated.
The disciplinary panel, in its prior order, noted that “there were a number of character witnesses who attested to the level of professionalism and integrity under which Mr. Crawford had practiced for the majority of his career.”
“However, on repeated occasions Mr. Crawford — over the last several years — has stolen money from his clients’ trust accounts,” the panel wrote. “He has taken money from them for legal services which were never performed. He has acted in derogation of court orders to invade his trust account and take monies to which he was not even arguably entitled. He has asserted he did these actions pursuant to a character weakness involving an addiction to gambling, drugs, and alcohol.”
Prior to his suspension, Crawford made regular appearances on KVBC-TV, Channel 3.
Members of the State Bar’s disciplinary panel “do not condemn Mr. Crawford,” according to its order.
“He has testified he is a changed man and the Panel certainly hopes he is. However, his direct testimony was that it was the pressures of the practice of law which caused him to succumb, the first time, into these terrible and despicable depths. The Panel finds nothing upon which they can rest a guarantee that if Mr. Crawford were allowed to practice law again the same practice would not cause him to suffer the same degree of stress and react in the same manner to that stress.”
Contact reporter Carri Geer Thevenot at email@example.com or 702-380-8135.