A former Delaware County prosecutor who, while driving after drinking hit a 14-year-old youth and fled the scene, has been suspended from the practice of law for one year after a recommendation from the state Supreme Court’s Disciplinary Board. The lawyer, Michael James Donohue, agreed to the suspension.
The victim sustained head injuries, broken bones and cuts, according to court papers in the case.
In a March 31 order, the Supreme Court adopted a December Disciplinary Board report and recommendation that Donohue be suspended upon consent for one year, with eight months stayed and four months served. The board also recommended that Donohue attend Alcoholics Anonymous and seek counseling. With the suspension being less than a year and one day, it does not require Donohue to petition for reinstatement to the bar.
According to a petition for discipline issued by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, while the boy Donohue struck survived the incident without “serious bodily injury,” and although Donohue served prison time, attorney discipline still had to be sorted out.
“This case involved a victim who fortunately was not killed as a result of the collision,” the petition said. “A suspension for at least some period of time, however, is required to best serve the interests of both the public and the bar because [Donohue] betrayed the faith and trust of the public through his violation of the laws he was charged with prosecuting.”
Donohue, 34, was employed as an assistant district attorney in Delaware County from 2006 until Nov. 9, 2011. According to the petition, Donohue fled the scene after hitting Jake Vantrieste, then 14, on Nov. 4, 2011, while driving his Jeep Cherokee in Upper Darby, Pa.
Vantrieste was rendered unconscious by the collision, the petition said. He remained lying on the road until an ambulance arrived to transport him to the hospital. The petition said that Vantrieste sustained head injuries, hip fractures and several lacerations.
Two days later, Upper Darby police arrived at Donohue’s home explaining that he had been linked to a hit-and-run. Donohue was asked to accompany the investigators to police headquarters; however, Donohue declined and said he would go at a later date, the petition said.
Upon Donohue’s consent, the investigators searched his garage. The petition said police found damage on the front driver’s side of Donohue’s Jeep consistent with the incident in question. An investigation later confirmed that Donohue’s vehicle was involved in the collision.
According to the petition, the investigation also confirmed that Donohue had been drinking at a Media, Pa., bar located next to the Delaware County Courthouse the evening of the accident.
On Nov. 14, 2011, Donohue arrived at Upper Darby police headquarters with his attorney, where he was arrested, the petition said.
Donohue was charged with aggravated assault, aggravated assault by vehicle, aggravated assault by vehicle while driving under the influence, simple assault, DUI, reckless driving, failure to give information and render aid, failure to give notice of an accident to police, careless driving and accidents involving death or personal injury, according to the petition.
At trial, Donohue was acquitted of the aggravated assault and DUI charges, but was found guilty of charges related to accidents involving death or personal injury, failing to render aid to Vantrieste and to notify police, and both reckless and careless driving, the petition said.
Senior Judge John L. Braxton sentenced Donohue to a minimum of four months in prison with a maximum of eight months. The petition said Donohue served time from Nov. 19, 2012, to Feb. 23, 2013.
Donohue apologized to Vantrieste and his family, the court, the District Attorney’s Office, a fire department where he volunteered, and “to the bar of the commonwealth for ‘whatever negative impact [his] conduct ha[d] caused it,’” the petition said.
According to the petition, Donohue fully cooperated with the Office of Disciplinary Counsel and accepted responsibility for his actions.
Donohue “admits his conduct adversely reflected upon his honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness to practice law and acknowledges that the misconduct is aggravated by the position [he] held as a prosecutor at the time he committed the crime,” the petition said.
Media, Pa.-based lawyer Robert E.J. Curran represented Donohue in the disciplinary matter.
“He’s a wonderful boy,” Curran said of Donohue. “It’s a sad story. He’s served time in jail and he hasn’t touched alcohol since the day of the accident. If anyone has been punished to the fullest extent of the law, he has.”