CHARLESTON – The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals has refused to reinstate Dante DiTrapano’s law license.
On Wednesday, the court issued its unsigned opinion after hearing arguments in January. Justice Menis Ketchum dissented and filed a separate opinion, stating that "sometimes we need to mix a little mercy with justice."
Justices Margaret Workman and Allen Loughry concurred, and they might file separate opinions as well.
DiTrapano, who has faced a myriad of legal troubles starting in 2006 following an admitted relapse into drug use, had his law license annulled in 2007. He first sought reinstatement in 2012.
“We have thoroughly reviewed the record presented for consideration, the briefs, the legal authorities cited, and the arguments of Mr. DiTrapano and the Office of Disciplinary Counsel,” the per curiam opinion states. “While Mr. DiTrapano has made commendable efforts to deal with his substance abuse problem, our review and consideration are not limited only to Mr. DiTrapano’s abuse of intoxicating substances.
“Pursuant to our review of the entire record, we find that Mr. DiTrapano has not satisfied his burden of showing that he presently possesses the integrity and moral character to resume the practice of law. Therefore, we decline to reinstate Mr. DiTrapano’s law license.”
While the ODC was against his reinstatement, the Hearing Panel Subcommittee of the Lawyer Disciplinary Board recommended his reinstatement following the successful completion and termination of his federal sentence of supervised release, which is expected to occur on Jan. 14, 2015, and that his legal practice be supervised by his employer or another supervisor and by the director of the West Virginia Lawyer Assistance Program for two years following his reinstatement; that prior to reinstatement, he be required to pay his dues to the West Virginia State Bar and complete all required CLEs; that he be ordered to reimburse the LDB the costs of the reinstatement proceedings; that he be ordered to continue his attendance at Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings three to four times per week; that he remain a member of the WVLAP for a period of two years from the date of reinstatement and that he be available upon request to assist the Board of Directors in speaking to bar members who struggle with alcoholism and/or addiction; and (6) that he give random urine screens, at his expense, to the WVLAP for a period of two years from reinstatement.
In its opinion, the Court focused on DiTrapano’s drug addiction, honesty and resulting felonies.
“The Court has never definitively held that drug addiction should be considered a mitigating factor when considering lawyer misconduct,” the opinion states.
“Honesty is such an important quality in attorneys that the West Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct specifically and implicitly require that attorneys deal honestly with their clients, courts and with third parties. … The misconduct to which Mr. DiTrapano admits in his questionnaire is replete with dishonest activity. Although he was not convicted of knowingly making a false statement and representation to a licensed dealer of firearms regarding his dependence on a controlled substance (in 2006), he admitted in the questionnaire that he ‘checked a box that indicated (he) was not addicted to drugs’ while he was in fact addicted to drugs.”
The Court also said DiTrapano’s 2010 conviction for making a false statement for the purpose of influencing the actions of a bank were “far more troubling.”
“Mr. DiTrapano presents this criminal activity as one single instance of dishonesty resulting from his drug addition,” the Court writes. “We cannot see the crime so superficially; his behavior involved numerous instances of deceit that necessarily involved premeditation, planning and patience.
“Moreover, this dishonesty involved his relationship with his client, a position of trust. … Furthermore, Mr. DiTrapano forged his client’s signature. …
“With regard to the alleged misappropriation, Mr. DiTrapano has left us with major apprehensions regarding his integrity and honesty.”
The Court also says it is “loath” to find that drug addition should be a mitigating factor to his dishonest conduct.
“We fail to see any connection – i.e. the direct purpose of his conduct was to acquire illegal drugs – between his drug use and his dishonest behavior,” the opinion states. “Furthermore, specifically with regard to the bank loan, even if there was some connection, the fact that the transaction took multiple steps to complete and involved multiple instances of dishonesty indicates that Mr. DiTrapano acted intentionally and knowingly, not merely as a reaction to his addiction.”
While the Court does comment DiTrapano for being clean and sober since April 10, 2007, it says it still finds inconsistencies in his statements that make the Court not believe he “has demonstrated adequate rehabilitation with regard to his honesty and integrity. …
“The evidence of Mr. DiTrapano’s unwillingness to accept responsibility for his actions, which compels us to question his integrity and moral character, weighs against finding that he is rehabilitated.”
The Court decided DiTrapano has failed to carry his burden of showing he “currently possesses the integrity and moral character necessary to resume the practice of law.”
“We conclude that reinstatement would have a justifiable and substantial adverse effect on the public’s confidence in the administration of justice,” the Court wrote, adding that it orders DiTrapano to pay the ODC for the costs associated with his reinstatement petition.
In his brief dissent, Ketchum says he believes DiTrapano "has more than met our five-factor test for rehabilitation in order to be readmitted to the practice of law."
"The Hearing Panel Subcommittee of the Lawyer Disciplinary Board heard the evidence, considered the extent of the rehabilitation, weighed the demeanor of the witnesses and Mr. Ditrapano, and made a thoughtful, measured recommendation," Ketchum wrote. "I would accept their recommendation to conditionally reinstate Mr. DiTrapano’s law license after the completion of his supervised release. I disagree with my distinguished colleagues."
In 2007, DiTrapano’s law license was annulled after multiple criminal charges had been filed against him, starting with cocaine possession in Florida.
According to court documents, DiTrapano was arrested on March 14, 2006, in St. Petersburg while preparing to undergo rehabilitation for his relapse into drug addiction. After being clean for more than 15 years, court filings show that DiTrapano became addicted to cough syrup in 2004, which over the next year led to him abusing oxycodone and crack cocaine following the death of friend’s six-year old son in DiTrapano’s pool.
After posting bond on the condition he report to the treatment center, DiTrapano was arrested a month later in DeKalb County, Ga., on charges of driving on a suspended license, public indecency and possession of cocaine. He was released after posting bond.
Two months later, DiTrapano was indicted by a federal grand jury in Charleston on firearms-related charges. Following his arrest a day later, U.S. Magistrate Judge Mary E. Stanley ordered he remain in custody pending trial.
After pleading guilty to the top count, Judge David Faber released DiTrapano on bond pending sentencing. As a condition of his bond, Faber order DiTrapano to begin a 28-day in-house drug treatment program at Prestera in Huntington.
Records show a month later, DiTrapano again appeared before Stanley following his arrest on unspecified violations of the terms of his home confinement. On Sept. 8, 2006, Faber ordered DiTrapano remain in custody pending sentencing.
Later on Oct. 10, Faber sentenced DiTrapano to six months in prison, and three years of supervised release. The terms of his release included DiTrapano’s participation in a substance abuse program.
Following his arrest on April 1, 2007, on simple possession of methamphetamine, the U.S. Probation Office asked that DiTrapano’s supervised release be revoked. Two weeks later, the probation office amended its revocation petition, stating that DiTrapano failed to appear for a scheduled urinalysis on April 5 and a specimen he provided on April 10 tested positive for cocaine and morphine.
According to court records, Faber on April 18, 2007, granted the probation office’s petition and ordered DiTrapano sentenced to 24 months in prison without any supervised release.
Three weeks after Faber sentenced DiTrapano to prison, the court annulled his license. Georgia’s high court followed suit and disbarred him.
More than two years later, DiTrapano was indicted on a count of information for making a false statement on loan application to United Bank.
According to court records, DiTrapano and another unnamed person sought a loan for $500,000 for a project in Kanawha City. In the loan paperwork, DiTrapano allegedly represented the co-signer personally signed the documents when court documents allege DiTrapano had forged it.
After receiving the funds, the indictment alleged DiTrapano took $35,000 and deposited it into his personal checking account and used it for “non-loan-related purposes.” After pleading guilty to the charge the previous August, DiTrapano on Jan. 14, 2010, was sentenced to one day in prison and five years of supervised release.
As a condition of his release, DiTrapano was ordered to perform 1,000 hours of community service.
Though he successfully performed the community service, which included participating in the state Bar’s Lawyers Assistance Program, DiTrapano’s petition for early termination of supervised release was denied in September. However, the court a month later agreed to entertain his motion for reinstatement of his license.
West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, case number 12-0677