CHARLESTON – Following his plea agreement on criminal charges two months ago, Michael Santa Barbara's law career may be put on hold for another two years.
In a petition filed May 16, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, the arm of the state Supreme Court that investigates attorney misconduct, asked the Court to suspend Santana Barbara for at least two years relating to his plea agreement the month before on charges of brandishing, and carrying a deadly weapon. The charges stem from an incident in August where he pointed a gun at a group of people and "'threatened to shoot them if they tried anything stupid.'"
According to the criminal complaint filed in Berkeley Magistrate Court, Santa Barbara on Aug. 15, attempted to block people from leaving a party near 424 Piedmont Way by parking his Cadillac Escalade in the roadway. After ordering the 30-40 people present to get under the nearby pavilion, and later ejected a round from his .380 pistol "to show everyone that the gun was loaded and asked how wants the first one."
After West Virginia State Police arrived on the scene, Santa Barbara said he and other neighbors were "upset with party because of the noise and the traffic." Also, he noticed a blue Jeep near the party which appeared to be one involved in acts of vandalism in the neighborhood the week before.
Though he admitted he "stepped in a little too deep and screwed up," Santa Barbara was charged a month later on five counts of brandishing a deadly weapon, one count of carrying a deadly weapon without a license, and one count of battery, all misdemeanors. According to the complaint, after blocking the road with his car, he struck one of the partygoers, Nicole Knott in the face with a flashlight when she approached him to inquire what he was doing.
On April 16, Santa Barbara agreed to plead no contest to one count of brandishing, and the carrying charge. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail, but given the alternative of performing 50 hours of community service, and fined $500 plus $160 in court costs.
In its petition, ODC said it was making the recommendation for a two-year suspension based not only the severity of the crimes Santa Barbara committed, but also on his failure to notify them within 30 days of entering his plea. He has 30 days to request a hearing on ODC's petition.
Since it was filed, the Court placed Santa Barbara on a year's suspension for his mishandling of four clients' personal injury cases. Along with the suspension, the Court ordered he undergo psychological/psychiatric counseling, take additional continuing education had have his practice supervised for a year upon reinstatement.
Prior to the suspension, Santa Barbara worked in partnership with his wife, Kathy.
West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals case number 12-0608
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