CHARELESTON - As he did recently to avoid contempt charges, a former Hampshire County attorney is hoping that making a good-faith effort to repay former clients from whom he allegedly embezzled money will ease the consequences he's facing on pending criminal charges.
On April 8, the state Supreme Court was scheduled to hear a contempt petition filed by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, the investigative arm of the state Bar, against Donald P. Cookman. ODC was asking the Court to sanction Cookman for failing to abide by the terms of its previous suspension order.
On Sept. 25, the Court suspended Cookman for a year for mishandling the cases of 11 clients. In addition to the suspension, the Court ordered that Cookman make restitution to two clients totaling $4,000 within 60 days of the order, and foot the nearly $4,000 disciplinary bill.
A month after he was suspended, ODC filed a new statement of charges against Cookman alleging he committed 10 violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct in the cases of five other clients. A statement of charges acts like an indictment for disciplinary purposes.
In January, Cookman petitioned the Court to have his license voluntarily annulled, which it granted on February 26. Despite the annulment, the contempt petition remained on the Court's docket.
However, on March 31 Chief Lawyer Disciplinary Counsel Rachel L. Fletcher Cipoletti asked that the Court dismiss the contempt charges. In her petition for dismissal, Cipoletti said ODC received three checks on March 23 from Cookman as payment in full on both the disciplinary bill and restitution.
On April 3, the Court granted ODC's dismissal request.
In a letter dated March 21 that accompanied the checks, Cookman apologized for the delay in making the required restitution. The delay was not out of spite, but due to his financial situation "that prevented my earlier compliance."
Though his financial situation has improved little since the contempt petition was filed, Cookman said his parents were gracious enough to loan him the funds necessary to pay both the Bar and the two clients.
According to his attorney, Fred Risovich II, Cookman has secured additional loans to begin paying on a pro rata basis former clients who've accused him of embezzlement. This along with other matters was came up in the course of meeting he had with special prosecutor Larry Crawford on March 24, Risovich said.
"Donnie has professionally addressed his alcoholism, and his best efforts to pay restitution to those to whom he owes money," Risovich said. "To that end, he has secured a loan to make a large substantial payment to the same."
In addition to allegations he forged the signature of Grant Circuit Judge Andrew N. Frye on several legal documents, Cookman has been charged with four counts of embezzlement in Hampshire Magistrate Court. He is free on a $60,000 personal recognizance bond.
Due to some of the cases involving estates and trusts, Risovich said there are questions of who handled money and when. Because of that, Cookman is not ready to admit he embezzled any money.
However, Risovich said Cookman admits he does owe those clients money, and is now working to repay them with the resources he has available. Hopefully, Risovich said both the prosecutor and the judge will look favorably on Cookman's efforts so as to punish him for any wrongdoing, yet allow him to earn a living and continue making restitution.
Both Risovich and Crawford said all discussions about the charges are on-going, and no offers or promises have been made as to a possible plea agreement.
A preliminary hearing on the charges is scheduled for Thurs., April 30 at 11 a.m. before Magistrate Donald Sharpe.
West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, Case No. 34719
Hampshire Magistrate Court, Case Nos. 09-F-43-49, 54