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In re A Member of Bar of Supreme Court of Delaware

Supreme Court of Delaware

October 15, 2019

IN THE MATTER OF A MEMBER OF THE BAR OF THE SUPREME COURT OF DELAWARE: CHRISTOPHER D. TEASE, Respondent.

          Submitted: October 7, 2019

          Seth L. Thompson, Esquire Chair.

          Gerald J. Hager, Esquire

          Before VALIHURA, VAUGHN, and TRAYNOR, Justices.

          ORDER

          PER CURIAM.

         It appears to the Court that:

         (1) On July 17, 2019, this Court accepted the recommendation of a panel of the Board on Professional Responsibility ("the Board") and suspended the respondent, Christopher D. Tease, from the practice of law in Delaware for a period of eighteen months, retroactive to November 20, 2014 (the date Tease transferred to disability inactive status).[1] The Court also accepted the Board's recommendation that Tease serve a one-year forward-looking period of probation, with conditions, to commence upon Tease's reinstatement, if he were reinstated.[2] The July 17, 2019 Order was stayed pending consideration of Tease's petition for reinstatement.[3]

         (2) Tease filed a petition for reinstatement with the Board. In its answer, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel ("ODC") took no position on the petition. On July 11, 2019, the Board held a hearing on Tease's petition for reinstatement. ODC stated that, following additional investigation and research, it supported the petition.

         (3) On October 4, 2019, the Board filed its Report with the Court, recommending that Tease be reinstated to the Bar, subject to the one-year probation period with conditions imposed by the July 17, 2019 Order. The Office of Disciplinary Counsel and Tease have informed the Court that they will not be filing any objections to the Report.

         (4) The Court has considered the matter carefully. The Court has determined that the Board's Report should be adopted in its entirety. The stay of the July 17, 2019 Order is lifted and the July 17, 2019 Order shall go into effect on the date of this Order.

         NOW, THEREFORE, IT IS ORDERED that the Board's Report (which is attached as Exhibit A) is hereby ACCEPTED. Christopher D. Tease, Esquire shall be reinstated as a member of the Bar of this Court, subject to the one-year probation period with conditions imposed by the July 17, 2019 Order (which is attached as Exhibit B).

         Exhibit A

         REPORT OF THE BOARD ON THE PETITION FOR REINSTATEMENT

         Pending before a panel of the Board on Professional Responsibility ("the Board") is an Amended Petition for Reinstatement ("the Petition") filed by Christopher D. Tease, Esquire ("the Petitioner") on June 19, 2019 in Board Case No. 114511-R. The Office of Disciplinary Counsel ("ODC") filed an Answer to the Petition on June 21, 2019. The Answer indicated that ODC took no position on the Petition.

         This is the Report and Recommendation of the Board in this matter. The Board convened a hearing ("the Hearing") on July 11, 2019.[1] The members of the panel of the Board were John D. Shevock, Gerald J. Hager, Esquire, and Seth L. Thompson, Esquire, Chair (the "Panel"). Matthew F. Boyer, Esquire, represented the Petitioner. Kathleen M. Vavala, Esquire, represented ODC, Matthew, Boyer, Esquire, represented the Petitioner.

         I. Procedural Background

         On November 19, 2014, the Petitioner filed a Petition for Transfer to Disability Inactive Status, pursuant to Rule 19 of the Delaware Lawyers' Rules of Disciplinary Procedure, alleging he was suffering from an emotional disability that impaired his ability to practice law. ODC did not oppose that petition. By Order dated November 20, 2014, the Supreme Court transferred the Petitioner to disability inactive status and stayed an underlying disciplinary proceeding.

         On February 20, 2018, the Petitioner petitioned the Supreme Court to resume active status. ODC did not oppose the Petitioner's transfer to active status pending resolution of the disciplinary proceeding that had been stayed, provided certain conditions were imposed on the Respondent's law practice. By Order dated February 22, 2018, the Supreme Court lifted the stay on the prior disciplinary proceedings and transferred the Respondent back to active status with certain conditions.

         On November 8, 2018, ODC filed a Petition for Discipline against the Petitioner. The Board held a hearing on February 14, 2019 on that petition and issued a report on June 4, 2019. The Supreme Court, by Order dated July 17, 2019, accepted the Board's recommendation and suspended the Petitioner for a period of 18 months, retroactively running from November 20, 2014, the date when Petitioner transferred to disability inactive status. The Supreme Court also ordered that, if the Petitioner is reinstated, he shall be subject upon reinstatement to a one-year period of probation with the following conditions:

a. The Petitioner is prohibited from engaging in the solo practice of law;
b. The Petitioner shall not act as managing partner in charge of books and records of a firm, and after the expiration of the probation period, the Petitioner shall notify ODC if he resumes responsibility for the books and records of a firm;
c. The Petitioner shall meet on a monthly basis with a mutually agreed upon practice monitor who will closely review the Petitioner's legal work and cases and the practice monitor would provide quarterly reports to ODC regarding the Petitioner's compliance with the conditions of reinstatement;
d. The Petitioner shall notify any employer of these conditions;
e. The Petitioner shall continue to cooperate with DE-LAP pursuant to a formal monitoring agreement and comply with all conditions deemed appropriate by DE-LAP;
f. The Petitioner shall continue counseling with Alice O'Brien, or another appropriate, licensed mental health professional approved by DE-LAP, at whatever intervals are deemed appropriate or until discharged by the mental health professional and complete all therapy programs recommended by the mental health professional, and the Petitioner shall execute a waiver of the doctor-patient privilege so that the mental health professional may provide a report to DE-LAP and ODC, and any missed appointments are to be reported immediately to DE-LAP and ODC;
g. The Petitioner must pay costs to ODC;
h. The Petitioner must timely file all required reports to the Supreme Court and its regulatory agencies and promptly comply with, or respond to, all inquiries or requests for information from all Supreme Court agencies, and the Petitioner's failure to do so will result in a violation of this condition;
i. The Petitioner shall report any violations of the conditions of his reinstatement to the ODC directly; and,
j. The Petitioner shall cooperate promptly and fully with ODC in its efforts to monitor compliance with his conditions of reinstatement. The Petitioner shall cooperate with ODC's investigation of any allegations of unprofessional conduct which may come to the attention of ODC. Upon request of ODC, the Petitioner shall provide authorization for release of information and documentation, to the extent not granted above, to verify compliance with the conditions of reinstatement.

         The Supreme Court stayed the effectiveness of its July 17, 2019 Order pending the Court's consideration of the Petition, with the July 17, 2019 Order going into effect on the date of the Court's final decision on the Petition now pending.

         At the outset of the Hearing, ODC indicated that, following additional investigation and research, it had concluded to support the Petition and recommended that the Petitioner be welcomed back into the Bar.[2]

         At the Hearing, the Panel received into evidence as Joint Exhibit No. 1 a binder with: a Stipulation of Facts; the transcript from the Board hearing on February 14, 2019; the Board Report and Recommendation of June 4, 2019; Alice O'Brien's letter to ODC dated February 11, 2019; Carol Waldhauser's DE-LAP Report to ODC dated February 13, 2019; and the Practice Monitor Reports from Eugene Maurer, Esquire dated October 2, 2018, January 14, 2019, and May 29, 2019.[3] The Panel also received Joint Exhibit No. 2, a letter dated July 11, 2019 from Carol Waldhauser as an updated DE-LAP Report.[4] The Board also heard testimony from the Petitioner.

         On August 5, 2019, the Panel received a transcript of the Hearing.

         II. Background

         The Petitioner was admitted to practice in the Supreme Court of Delaware in 1996.[5] Prior to his transfer to disability inactive status in 2014, the Petitioner was struggling at work, experiencing anxiety and depression and using alcohol as a coping mechanism.[6] In November 2014, shortly before the transfer to disability inactive status, the Petitioner sought treatment at the Volpicelli Center in Norristown, Pennsylvania.[7] There, he was diagnosed with depression and substance abuse disorder.[8]

         In 2015, the Petitioner located employment in the golf industry, in which he had worked many years before.[9] The Petitioner moved out of his marital home in April 2016 and, in June of that year, felt ready to seek reentry into the legal practice.[10] The Petitioner reached out to ODC and DE-LAP and began therapy with Paula Tropiano in West Chester, Pennsylvania, which the Petitioner described as "very intense."[11] The therapy sessions ended a period of approximately six months in 2016 when the Petitioner was not under the care of a treating therapist.[12] In March 2017, the Petitioner changed from Ms. Tropiano to Alice O'Brien, seeing her initially biweekly and then monthly.[13] In addition, the Petitioner attended about six months of group therapy and attended Alcoholics Anonymous until shortly before the Hearing.[14] The Petitioner also entered into a Monitoring Agreement with DE-LAP, which was initially discussed in September 2016 and formally executed on November 1, 2016.[15]The Petitioner then entered into an updated Monitoring Agreement on March 6, 2018, which runs for two years from that date.[16]

         The Petitioner asked the Court to transfer him to active status in February 2018.[17] By that date, he had returned to treatment, addressed his marital issues and had gone without a drink "cold turkey" for about eighteen months. The Supreme Court conditionally transferred the Petitioner back to active status by Order dated February 22, 2018, and he has continued to practice under those conditions.[18]

         Two days later, on February 24, 2018, the Petitioner became employed by Brown, Shiels & Beauregard, where the Petitioner was an associate until July 5, 2018.[19] During that month, the Petitioner joined Eugene J. Maurer, Jr., P.A. as an associate attorney working directly under Mr. Maurer s supervision and exclusively handling criminal defense matters.[20] The Petitioner handles matters assigned by the Office of Conflicts Counsel in Kent and Sussex Counties.[21]While the Petitioner handles felony matters, he works mostly ...


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