WALNUT CREEK -- A prominent San Francisco environmental attorney suspended from practicing law after killing his Rossmoor neighbor in a 2011 drunk-driving accident is fighting his disbarment, with the matter now in front of the Supreme Court of California.
Robert David Wyatt, 73, of Walnut Creek pleaded no contest in 2012 to felony vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated in connection with the Dec. 10, 2011 death of 85-year-old Edward Phillips.
Phillips was waiting for a shuttle in the gated senior community when he was hit by the Bentley Wyatt was driving. Wyatt, who had a blood-alcohol level more than twice the legal limit at 0.18, was sentenced to three years of formal probation, 90 days of electronic home detention and 50 hours of community service. Wyatt served no jail time.
Still playing out is the future of Wyatt's legal career. For the past two years, he has been fighting for reinstatement to the bar so he can practice law again.
That fight, so far, has been unsuccessful."Here, the accident was clearly tragic and (Wyatt) did not intentionally hit Phillips with his car," wrote Judge Lucy Armendariz of the State Bar Court in her February 2013 decision that Wyatt be disbarred. "But he knew he drank vodka and beer. And he reasonably should have known that injury to others was a possible if not a probable result of his driving while intoxicated, particularly in a senior community."
Wyatt was a senior partner at the Allen Matkins law firm's San Francisco office and formerly served as Western regional counsel for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Following his conviction, the State Bar held a disciplinary hearing to determine whether Wyatt should be sanctioned over the conviction. At that hearing, Armendariz determined Wyatt should be disbarred because his conviction involved "moral turpitude."
Wyatt appealed that decision to the bar's review board, which consists of a three-judge review. This month, that panel upheld the State Bar judge's decision. Now the case moves on to the state Supreme Court, which will decide whether Wyatt should be permanently disbarred.
Wyatt could petition to have his case reopened in front of the Supreme Court, rather than just reviewed. That would give him a chance to argue his case. It hasn't been decided whether Wyatt will do that, said his attorney Jerome Fishkin, who declined further comment.
Wyatt argued in the past that he should be suspended for, at most, six months because it was an accident and because medications affected his high blood-alcohol level. Wyatt also contended Phillips walked faster than an average 85-year-old, and jumped in front of his car.
That last point is ludicrous, according to Don Powell, who used to work in Rossmoor and was friends with Phillips. Powell, one of several Rossmoor residents who testified in front of the State Bar against Wyatt, said Phillips was blind in one eye, could not run and was not very mobile.
Rossmoor resident Antoinette Stevens said at the hearing she was walking when she noticed what she thought was "a bag on the street." When she realized it was a man, she called security and went home to get a blanket to cover him.
A Supreme Court decision on Wyatt's case could take years.
Powell is incredulous that Wyatt is fighting the disbarment.
"I think that is a sign of the most arrogant, take-care-of-yourself superior attitude," Powell said. "He is using this system which he knows to excuse his entire behavior."
Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617. Follow her at Twitter.com/enardi10.