WHEELING - The West Virginia Supreme Court on Monday stripped the law license of New Martinsville attorney H. John Rogers, calling his conduct "reprehensible" when he had a local businessman involuntarily committed on mental health allegations later deemed untrue.
The unanimous ruling cited Rogers' convictions on false swearing and misuse of the mental hygiene system after he pleaded no contest to the misdemeanors. With those pleas, he did not admit guilt but chose not to challenge the case brought by prosecutors.
"Because Mr. Rogers exploited his knowledge of the law and our legal system to carry out a personal vendetta that resulted in a citizen of this state being involuntarily confined in a mental health care facility, we must send a strong message to the bar and to the public that this conduct will not be tolerated," the justices wrote in Monday's decision.
Rogers, 73, ran unsuccessfully for election multiple times over the decades, including for the Supreme Court last year. A 1966 Harvard law school graduate, Rogers on Monday quoted the verse from Omar Khayy'm about accepting reality that legendary defense lawyer Clarence Darrow famously invoked during the 1924 Loeb-Leopold trial.
"You won't have H. John to kick around anymore," Rogers also said, paraphrasing President Richard Nixon.
Rogers signed a hygiene petition alleging Jeffrey Shade, owner of Baristas in New Martinsville, was suicidal, high on psychedelic drugs and had twice assaulted Rogers one day in July 2009. Police in Wetzel County detained Shade, and he was taken to a mental health secure facility in Wheeling, where he was held for several hours. After an exam and medical tests, the petition against Shade was dismissed and he was released.
According to the court's order, on the morning of July 27, 2009, Rogers entered Shade's cafe. He promptly began "yelling, using profanity and gesturing to Jeffrey Shade ..."
The petition states Rogers returned to the cafe later that same day, continuing to yell and gesture at those inside. He then reportedly said, "Hear no evil, see no evil, pure evil."
"These acts of dishonesty resulted in Mr. Shade being detained by a police officer in front of his son and being deprived of his personal freedom," the justice's ruling said. "We find that Mr. Rogers' conduct in this matter falls woefully short of the obligations a lawyer owes to the public, to the legal system and to the profession."
A self-described recovering alcoholic, Rogers has become known for publicity-seeking episodes. At a 1980 press conference he convened to declare he was running for U.S. Senate, Rogers punched a reporter in the face with cameras rolling after being asked about his own stay in a mental health facility.
When the Supreme Court heard arguments in Rogers' case earlier this month, his defense lawyer claimed Rogers sought to shock Shade into getting help for a substance abuse problem. But drug testing came back negative, and testimony before the lawyer disciplinary panel alleged Rogers had been the aggressor by yelling and threatening Shade during their run-ins.
"We find it troubling that Mr. Rogers has refused to acknowledge the wrongful nature of his conduct," the decision states. His "arguments are not supported by the record before us. Mr. Rogers has failed to demonstrate any appreciation for the considerable harm he has caused to Mr. Shade."
Monday's ruling also cited how Rogers tried to have Shade's massage therapy license revoked by filing a complaint with that professional board. He dropped it when an investigator sought to interview him, the ruling notes.
"Mr. Rogers' misconduct resulted in actual injury to Mr. Shade and to the medical and judicial systems of Wetzel County," the decision states. "We find Mr. Rogers's conduct to be reprehensible."
Rogers must undergo a comprehensive mental health exam before he can petition for the return of his law license, and an independent licensed psychiatrist must determine if he is fit to practice, according to Monday's ruling.