Wayne Thatcher, a former Poughkeepsie police officer and a well-known attorney since 1993, has been suspended from practicing law for two years for assaulting a criminal defense client.
Thatcher had pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of forcible touching and sentenced last year to jail for 45 days.
“We find that (Thatcher) committed serious professional misconduct,” a panel of five appellate judges ruled on Sept. 25. He “not only abused his position as an attorney, but he relied on his former position as a police office to insulate himself from accountability.”
Complaints about Thatcher had been lodged as far back as 2006. Nine women, citing nearly identical words and actions, accused him of wrongdoing.
The latest complaint came down to the word of a woman in jail on drug charges against the word of Thatcher, “probably one of the most well-known and respected attorneys in Dutchess County, a former police officer, a lieutenant with the Town of Poughkeepsie,” the assistant district attorney told the sentencing judge last year, “accusing him of horrific conduct.”
But she also agreed to wear a recording device and confront Thatcher, and she captured on video the very actions she had accused him of.
“Had she not come forward,” the assistant district attorney told the sentencing judge, “I have full faith that this defendant would continue to abuse the people that sought help from him, abuse the powerless, abuse those who were in jail depending on him to help them.”
Thatcher did not dispute the accuracy of the prosecutor’s account but he disagreed with its relevance to the sanctions the Second Appellate Division judges were considering.
Special referee Norma Giffords concluded after a hearing that Thatcher had forcibly touched the woman and squeezed her buttocks “for the purpose of his own sexual desire.”
Thatcher testified that his act was a response to a joke.
He argued to the appellate panel that a public censure would be appropriate, considering several mitigating factors. He had cooperated. He had no prior disciplinary history. He had served jail time. He had lost clients. He has a reputation for honesty. He has provided free legal services to the community.
And, as he testified repeatedly at Giffords’ hearing, he was remorseful.
Giffords was unpersuaded by his statements and apologies.
“He had not learned why his act was criminal and not a joke,” she reported, “especially in view of his relationship to the complainant.
The appellate judges adopted Giffords’ finding of no remorse, “as the respondent (Thatcher) viewed his conduct as actions merely taken in jest, rather than as the abusive conduct it was.”
He had “engaged in nonconsensual physical conduct with a client to gratify a sexual desire. Committed in the confines and privacy of the respondent’s law office, the conduct would have continued and gone unchecked, but for the client’s cooperation with law enforcement. The conduct was not isolated,” the judges ruled.
“We conclude that the respondent’s criminal conduct warrants a suspension from the practice of law for two years.”
Thatcher was represented by Manhattan attorney Hal R. Lieberman. Gary L. Casella of White Plains represented the attorney grievance committee for the Ninth Judicial District.
The appellate panel included Presiding Justice Alan D. Scheinkman and justices Betsy Barros, Mark C. Dillon, William F. Mastro and Reinaldo E. Rivera.
The suspension will begin Oct. 25.