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Sober Lawyer Regains License to Practice

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By William Vogeler, Esq. on January 18, 2017 2:56 PM

Three years ago, attorney Frank Barnwell McMaster woke up from the worst hangover in his life.

It was not the pain in his brain that floored him, it was his mug shot in the media after he was arrested for his second alcohol-related crime. McMaster, the brother of South Carolina's former attorney general, was now the poster boy for alcoholic lawyers. An irreverent website took a swipe at McMaster and his famous brother, posting the mug shot with the lead-in:

"What would former S.C. Attorney General Henry McMaster look like if they made a Palmetto political version of 'The Hangover' films?" FitNews posed.

"Probably something like his younger brother Frank McMaster of Lexington, S.C. -- who was busted late last month on charges of illegally tampering with a vehicle, discharging a firearm while under the influence of alcohol and disorderly conduct."

Two Steps Back

It was not the first time for McMaster. A year earlier, he was arrested for driving under the influence and hit-and-run. He later plead guilty to DUI and making an illegal turn.

After his second arrest for alcohol-related crimes, the state supreme court suspended him indefinitely on March 4, 2014. In his disciplinary proceedings in 2015 and 2016, McMaster said he suffered from alcoholism and depression.

He said he began counseling and committed to a two-year program with Lawyers Helping Lawyers, requiring him to remain alcohol-free and to participate actively in Alcoholics Anonymous at least two meetings per week. He also presented doctor's statements that he was fit to practice law again.

Twelve Steps Forward

Considering McMaster's efforts to remain sober, the state Supreme Court in a decision on January 11, 2017, imposed a 30-month suspension. The panel made the sentence retroactive to the date of the original suspension, effectively restoring his license.

The story is typical among thousands based on studies that show about 20 percent of lawyers abuse alcohol. According to a survey of more than 12,000 lawyers, men and younger attorneys habitually abused alcohol at an even higher rate. It is one of the leading causes for attorney-discipline.

"While it's uncertain why lawyers experience alcohol dependence and abuse at a higher rate, it is clear that alcoholism has devastating effects on a lawyer's career and personal life," says the American Bar Association, which offers help to lawyers dealing with alcohol problems.

For McMaster, help came in the form of a retroactive suspension that restored his license to practice. That was not so typical.

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