The state Supreme Court Wednesday handed Charleston attorney Michael DuPree a nine-month suspension, saying he showed “complete disrespect for law enforcement” during a drunken Utah traffic stop in which he bit a state trooper.
The high court made the suspension retroactive to April 18 of last year, when DuPree was first sidelined while court officials investigated the complaint.
That appears to clear the way for him to return to his practice, but he has not yet done so.
His lawyer, Dan David, said judicial rules prohibited him or DuPree from commenting on the Supreme Court’s action.
As part of his punishment, DuPree, 49, must reimburse the Office of Disciplinary Counsel for the costs of its investigation into the incident and complete a legal ethics program. He also must continue with two years of monitoring by Lawyers Helping Lawyers, which assists attorneys struggling with depression and substance abuse.
The high court’s opinion states that DuPree was “combative, hostile and belligerent” during the March 22 traffic stop, but he also has been “contrite and appears earnestly determined to overcome his alcoholism.”
DuPree already has pleaded guilty in Utah to misdemeanor charges of assault, interfering with police and failing to disclose his identity, the Supreme Court stated. He was placed on probation there for six months, fined $1,500, ordered to complete substance-abuse treatment and required to write letters of apology to the two troopers involved in the traffic stop, the court stated.
The incident occurred when a trooper pulled over a car in which DuPree was riding in Park City, Utah, shortly after midnight on March 22, according to a police report. The trooper stopped the car because it was traveling 5 mph over the speed limit and wasn’t staying in one lane, the report said.
When a trooper tried to question the driver about how much he had had to drink, DuPree repeatedly interrupted, swore at the officer and refused to identify himself, troopers said. A trooper ended up jolting DuPree with a stun gun after he repeatedly refused commands to get out of the car, they said.
DuPree then punched the trooper in the mouth, splitting his lip, a police report said. The two men wrestled and DuPree bit the trooper on the arm, breaking skin, before others officers helped subdue him, the report said.
The Supreme Court justices watched dashboard video from the incident and stated that they found that “troopers exercised extreme restraint in their treatment of (DuPree).”
DuPree testified that he “drank to oblivion” that day, but that does not excuse his misconduct, the justices wrote. “The situation underscores the negative affect of alcohol on good judgment,” they stated.
Shortly after the incident, DuPree voluntarily entered treatment at the Medical University of South Carolina, began attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and sought counseling from his minister and a therapist, the justices noted. He also has shared his story with other attorneys.
DuPree worked as a prosecutor for the Charleston County Solicitor’s Office for 14 years and has been in private practice since 2003, according to his website.
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