CHARLESTON – When Justices of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals suspended the law license of Michael Markins for two years, they should have ordered him to pay restitution to two firms he damaged, according to Justice Larry Starcher.
"I believe that if this Court is to be guided in lawyer disciplinary matters by crafting sanctions designed to restore and maintain confidence in lawyer disciplinary procedures and in our legal system, then this Court must require lawyers who cause actual injury to make restitution for their wrongful conduct," Starcher wrote May 23.
"I would have preferred to remand this matter to the Lawyer Disciplinary Board with instructions to conduct further investigation into the damages incurred by the law firms of Offutt Fisher and Nord and Huddleston Bolen LLP."
Markins stole about 150 e-mails from the Offutt firm in Huntington, where his wife Andrea Markins worked, while he worked for Huddleston Bolen in Huntington.
According to Starcher, managing partner D. C. Offutt said there was no realistic way to quantify the overall loss or impact on the firm.
He wrote that Offutt said, "The negative ramifications of his illegal actions will continue for years to come and the stigma placed on the firm may never be completely erased."
Starcher wrote that Markins, rather than taking responsibility, suggested he has suffered the most.
That tone disturbed Starcher at oral arguments April 1.
"He has suffered greatly," Markins' attorney Michael Callaghan of Charleston told the Court. "He lived in obscurity and all of a sudden he's on the front page."
Starcher said, "But he caused it."
Chief disciplinary counsel Rachael Fletcher Cipoletti told the Justices that if not for mitigating circumstances, she would have asked to annul Markins's license.
She asked for two years, and the Justices granted it.
"Not only was OFN forced to expend valuable time and resources to investigate the matter, but it was also required to disclose the unfortunate events to its clients, opening itself up to potential lawsuits and professional embarrassment." they wrote.
"Moreover, one is unable to predict or tangibly quantify the future impact of Respondent's misconduct on OFN or Respondent's former law firm in terms of attracting new clients."
Markins and his wife both lost their jobs.
He didn't tell her what he had done until he knew Offutt's sleuth would catch him. The next day, Offutt asked her if she knew what he had done and she said no.