I, Douglas C. Crawford, do solemnly swear that I deeply and humbly apologize to my former clients, as I have a hundred times before, for causing widespread devastation in their lives.
I, Douglas C. Crawford, do solemnly swear that I apologize to members of the bench, the bar, and the general public, for the disgrace I have brought to the profession of law.
And I, Douglas C. Crawford, respectfully ask that every reader laying eyes on my story, take a small step toward understanding that gambling addiction is a real thing that sets in motion actions of cataclysmic proportion, and often ends in suicide attempts, or worse. Just as it did in mine.
I was lucky. But it took my dog, a shot gun and faith in the judicial system to help me rise up. Here’s my story.
Ascent Toward “Dream City”
The night of Aug. 14, 1984, I chugged over the hill and down into the glittering Las Vegas Valley in the smallest Honda Civic made, pulling a slat-sided, little-red-wagon U-Haul filled with all of my worldly possessions. With five crisp hundreds in my wallet, a law degree from University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law, and dreams of litigating in “Sin City,” in two days I had a tiny studio in a seedy part of town and a job as a law clerk at a medium-size insurance defense firm earning $22,000…more money than I’d seen in my life.
At the time, the MGM Hotel fire litigation was kicking into high gear and local firms were desperate for warm bodies to generate billable hours; so with job, salary and home taken care of, Nevada was handing me no limits, and my addictive brain felt right at home. What I didn’t realize was that it wouldn’t take long before my propensity for drinking, drugging and gambling became problematic in the state where 24-hour access to debauchery was not only allowed, but encouraged.
I sat for the Nevada Bar Examination in the summer of 1985 and was admitted to the practice of law that September. After a couple of false starts with two different firms, I was hired as an associate for a high-intensity criminal defense and family law firm. The senior partner—now a justice in the Nevada Supreme Court—taught me how to be a litigation attorney, and I was drawn to it like a bartender to tips. Four years later, I my solo practice emphasized criminal defense and matrimonial law, with the occasional high-end personal injury case thrown in for good measure.
From the late 80s to the early 2000s, Las Vegas grew as fast as a hot gambler’s chip stack. Clients were not hard to find, and with my reputation as an “alley fighter” litigator, my income soared to levels unfathomable to a farm boy from northern California. Unfortunately, the addictions that I was born with began to intensify in tandem with my salary. Through the 90s, I was a coke and liquor “weekend warrior,” two things that at the time were omnipresent in both Las Vegas at large and the legal community. Exacerbated by the drinking and drugging, my gambling addiction soared out of control and I began scouring money from any and all sources to feed binges lasting up to 30 hours. Before long, I’d borrowed all the equity from my real estate holdings accrued during the “bubble,” and gave it all to the casinos. And after exhausting every penny from my savings, real estate and income, I did the unthinkable and invaded my trust account, gambling away my clients’ money.
Life On The Decline
On May 1, 2007, I was temporarily suspended by the Nevada Supreme Court pending ethical charges from the State Bar of Nevada. Paralyzed by shame and fear, the next 5 months were a blur of nonstop gambling and drug use. As a criminal defense attorney, I was all too familiar with the consequences of embezzling several hundred thousand dollars and I lived in fear of immediate arrest and a long prison stint. But the worry paled against my shame for what I had done to former clients. That day, I awoke around 2 a.m. after a long binge, feeling entirely alone in the universe, having alienated my colleagues, family and friends through my addictive behavior. Unabashedly alone, with no one to talk to and terrified of inevitable incarceration, I placed a shot gun barrel in my mouth and prepared to end the pain. That is, until my dog Jane saw me lying on the floor with the gun by my side. She picked up one of her stuffed animal toys and dropped it on my chest. In that moment, I couldn’t bring myself to blow my head off in front of her, and I slowly realized that I had to face the future. I had to begin changing my life.
Road To Redemption
It took a few months. But clouded by the physiological effects of addiction, on Oct. 8, 2007, I finally entered the 6-week intensive outpatient program at the Problem Gambling Center, which had been established by the world’s foremost authority on gambling addiction, Dr. Robert Hunter. And for the first time, I began to understand why my life had been driven by addictions. His highly effective blend of brain science, peer counseling and spiritual development gave me insights that had eluded me. For example, I learned that my severe gambling addiction derived from the bio-genetic component of defective dopamine receptors, in combination with some specific psychological traits. I was born with deformed dopamine receptors in the same way I was born with brown eyes, so from the first time I was exposed to behavior that caused a dopamine surge, I was likely to become addicted to that behavior whether it was gambling, drinking, drugging or almost anything else. And while my condition remains incurable, progressive and often fatal, it is imminently treatable. By attending 12-step meetings, participating in aftercare therapy sessions and interacting daily with other recovering addicts, I formed new neural pathways and to this day I continue to keep this horrible disease in remission.
Paying The Piper
With my recovery in full swing, on Feb. 22, 2008, I entered a conditional guilty plea in the State Bar of Nevada to 24 ethical violations stemming from my addiction. As a condition of the plea, I was entitled to a hearing where I argued for a 5-year suspension rather than permanent disbarment. I presented extensive evidence (including expert testimony by Dr. Hunter) of my gambling addiction as a mitigating factor; but on April 28, 2008, the ethics panel filed a written decision to permanently disbar me from the practice of law.
Citing fear of relapse, the panel deemed me a “black stain upon the state bar” and unanimously voted for permanent disbarment. I was devastated, but I vowed to educate the bench, bar and general public about the nature of my disease. I appealed the ethics panel ruling to the Nevada Supreme Court, and in a unanimous opinion filed Feb. 18, 2009, the panel converted my permanent disbarment to a 5-year suspension with numerous conditions of reinstatement. And in reversing the ethics panel, the court cited gambling addiction as one of several mitigating factors not given sufficient weight by the bar. This was a first in Nevada jurisprudence. And I was overjoyed at the prospect of practicing law again.
Not long after completing Dr. Hunter’s intensive outpatient program, I was contacted by Dr. Rena Nora, another pioneer in treating gambling addiction. She was appointed by Gov. Jim Gibbons to chair the Governor’s Advisory Committee on Problem Gambling. Knowing my law background, and that I was a gambling addict in treatment, on Oct. 24, 2008, in what turned out to be her last official act (she died several days later) Dr. Nora appointed me to the Subcommittee on Legal Issues for the Governor’s Advisory Committee.
Among other things, we were directed to draft legislation to create a diversion program for gambling addicts who commit crimes in furtherance of their addiction. After months of meetings, research and discussion, and thanks primarily to the efforts of prominent gaming attorney Anthony Cabot, Esq., the committee drafted Assembly Bill 102. And on Feb. 27, 2009, I testified along with other interested on behalf of the bill’s passage in the Assembly Judiciary Committee of the Nevada State Legislature. Several months later Nevada Revised Statute 458A.200 was passed into law. It assures that defendants who are placed in diversion will make restitution to people they victimize as a result of their addiction.
(Re)Trusting The System
For the first days, weeks and months of my recovery, I was sure I’d be arrested at any moment. After all, I had testified in the state bar action that I had misappropriated hundreds of thousands of dollars. The Clark County District Attorney already had a prima facie case based upon bank records and my testimony. For reasons still unknown to me, the district attorney waited until November 2010 (3 years after I began recovery and more than 2 after the ethics trial) to file a criminal complaint, charging me with four counts of felony theft. Realizing the futility of taking the matter to trial, on Oct. 31, 2011, I entered a guilty plea to two counts of felony theft. Pursuant to the plea agreement, two felony counts were to be dismissed but the DA was free to argue for prison time at sentencing.
On Dec. 22, 2011, I filed a Motion for Diversion per NRS 458A.200, the very statute that I had participated in drafting years before charges were filed. In an ironic twist of fate, despite vigorous opposition by the DA, on Jan. 11, 2011, Judge Donald Mosely of the Eighth Judicial District Court stayed adjudication and granted my motion. I became the first criminal defendant in Southern Nevada to be sentenced to a program of treatment for gambling addiction under the new statute. I have successfully completed the program, paid over $100,000 restitution to my former clients, and hope to have the criminal case dismissed and sealed pursuant to the statute.
On Aug. 5, 2013, I filed my Petition for Reinstatement to the practice of law with the State Bar of Nevada. I had taken and passed the Bar Exam in February 2013; passed the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam with a score of 134; paid almost $80,000 in restitution; and maintained my recovery without relapse. The bar moved to dismiss the petition on the ground that I had not paid full restitution to my former clients as required by the Order of Suspension issued by the Nevada Supreme Court. I opposed the motion on the ground that I could never earn sufficient income to pay full restitution (and complete my Ninth Step of recovery: “making amends for the harm I caused”) unless allowed to obtain substantial income from practicing law. The Chairman of the Southern Nevada Disciplinary Board heard my argument, reviewed the pleadings and denied the bar’s motion. My trial for reinstatement was set for Jan. 21, 2014.
After taking testimony and receiving exhibits, the ethics panel unanimously ruled that I should be reinstated to the practice of law with rigorous conditions designed to protect the public. The opinion went up for automatic review and on Nov. 10, 2014, the Nevada Supreme Court entered an order asking the bar and ethics panel to make clear findings that I was not a threat to the public, and to structure conditions of reinstatement that were “less rigorous” and more workable. Another reinstatement hearing was held Dec. 1, 2014, and the same ethics panel again voted unanimously to reinstate me to the practice of law…this time with fewer restrictions, but enough designed to monitor my recovery and help me repay my clients. I am proud to say I am making restitution at a prodigious pace.
The central characteristic of gambling addiction is that the mid-brain—which governs impulses like eating and sleeping, and has no “conscience”—hijacks the frontal cortex, (which governs logical and moral functions), and breeds a climate for devastating behavior. With theft crimes a key diagnostic element of gambling addiction, countless gambling addicts commit offenses similar to ones I described. We also suffer from the highest suicide rate of any insular patient group studied thus far.
It is my sincere hope that by sharing my truth, judges who sentence addicts for crimes committed in furtherance of their addiction will do so with better knowledge of the disease.
The apologies at the beginning of this missive repeat here at the end, because there aren’t enough ways to convey their depth and humility:
I deeply and humbly apologize for causing widespread devastation in my clients’ lives.
I apologize to members of the bench, the bar, and the general public, for the temporary disgrace I brought to our profession…and I strive daily to remember the good that is in me that I can now share with our community.
I respectfully ask that society does its part to understand that gambling addiction is a real thing that sets in motion actions of cataclysmic proportion which often ends in suicide attempts, or worse.
I was lucky. Because it took my dog, a shot gun and faith in the judicial system to help me rise up. And I did. This was my story. Please share it. And help me prevent it from becoming someone else’s.