CHARLESTON - A Georgia woman has filed a suit against an embattled West Virginia attorney now serving time in federal prison because her case was dismissed when he was unable to represent her.
Louise Wood of Walton, Ga., filed the suit July 3 in Kanawha Circuit Court against Dante DiTrapano and his law firm DiTrapano, Barrett & DiPiero. Attorney William H. Harding also is named as a defendant.
DiTrapano was serving time in federal prison after pleading guilty to being a drug addict in possession of a firearm. He recently was transferred to a halfway house in Kanawha County.
"He's doing very well," said Michael Del Guidice, who represented DiTrapano in the proceedings. "Dante is trying to get his life back together."
Del Guidice said DiTrapano has been at a halfway house in Rand for about a month since leaving the Kennedy Federal Correctional Center in Morgantown. He said DiTrapano is working as a paralegal for Charleston attorney John Mitchell Jr.
According to Wood's suit, she hired Harding to represent her after she was in an automobile accident in Georgia on Dec. 12, 2002. Wood claims she sustained serious injuries requiring medical treatment and hospitalization, preventing her from working for two months.
Wood sought compensation for her injuries, which she says she has still not received.
According to her suit, Harding drafted a complaint for the State Court of Clayton County in Georgia and sent it to Wood to file pro se because he was not licensed to practice law in Georgia. However, he handled all matters related to the litigation including the preparation of discovery.
Harding informed Wood that DiTrapano would work as an attorney on the case because he was licensed to practice law in Georgia. DiTrapano would make all court appearances while Harding did all the "work behind the scenes," the suit says.
On Nov. 21, 2005, DiTrapano filed a Notice of Appearance with the Clayton County Court, and the non-jury trial was scheduled for Dec. 29, 2005.
Wood claims Harding told her that before Christmas 2005 he had spoken with DiTrapano while DiTrapano was at the beach in Florida, and DiTrapano would be obtaining a continuance for the trial scheduled for Dec. 29.
According to the suit, Wood was not even aware that the trial had been rescheduled.
No Motion to Continue was filed nor was a continuance obtained and on Dec. 29, 2005, when neither Wood nor DiTrapano appeared for counsel, the suit was dismissed with prejudice. Notice of the dismissal was sent to DiTrapano at his law office, and Wood claims she received notice of the dismissal.
Wood claims she attempted to contact Harding for several months in 2006 to obtain the status of her case, but he never returned her calls.
In March 2006, DiTrapano and his wife Teri were arrested at the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Hilton and charged with possession of crack cocaine. Both of them were released on bond from Pinellas County Jail. The couple, as well as three individuals from the area, also was arrested for possession and a variety of other charges.
Officials said there were 73 pieces of crack cocaine and 21 grams of powder cocaine in the room when the arrests occurred. Dante DiTrapano told officers he and the others were having one last party before he entered a drug rehab facility there.
Harding contacted Wood and told her of DiTrapano's legal troubles and told her he thought there might be a problem with her case.
Harding told Wood to go to the courthouse to obtain a copy of the court file, where she learned her case had been dismissed.
Wood claims DiTrapano and Harding failed to exercise reasonable care, skill and diligence in their representation.
"The failure resulted in the permanent and irrevocable loss of (Wood's) right of action, leaving (her) with no opportunity to obtain compensation for the injuries she suffered in the accident," the suit says.
According to the suit, Wood would have recovered judgment for personal injuries, medical expenses, lost wages and pain and suffering if the action had not been dismissed.
Wood claims her medical bills were turned over to a collection, increasing her beacon score and resulting in a higher interest rate on the home she purchased.
Wood seeks the judgment against the defendants, with 10 percent interest added.
DiTrapano's legal issues have continued since his March 2006 arrest. In April 2006, federal, state and local agents confiscated guns, ammunition, prescription drugs, drug paraphernalia and other personal items during a six-hour search of the DiTrapano home.
That June, DiTrapano was cited with four driving related charges after a State Trooper pulled him over near St. Albans because of an expired state inspection sticker and an expired registration.
DiTrapano also couldn't produce proof of insurance or a current operator's license because it already had been suspended. And DiTrapano already had been convicted of driving suspended on Nov. 21, 2005.
In July 2006, DiTrapano pleaded guilty to a federal drug and weapons charge and was ordered into a drug treatment facility until his sentencing. DiTrapano pleaded guilty to a charge that he was a drug addict in possession of firearms, which is a violation of federal law.
After pleading guilty before going to rehab, DiTrapano paid a $10,000 bond and signed court documents agreeing to, among other things, not possess firearms or weapons, not to travel outside the Southern District of West Virginia. He also agreed to submit to random urine tests.
In September 2006, DiTrapano's bond was revoked after an Aug. 29 urine specimen tested positive for cocaine. Just before that, DiTrapano had been put back in jail after violating terms of his home confinement. That was after federal probation officers filed a petition showing DiTrapano violated the home confinement conditions of his bond at least 12 times in the 12 days since he was released from a Huntington drug rehabilitation center.
In January 2007, DiTrapano was arrested again on the day he was scheduled to be released from prison. DiTrapano, who was finishing a sentence on a federal firearms conviction, was arrested on Georgia fugitive charges. In June 2007, Magistrate Mary Stanley revealed that DiTrapano had been arrested in Georgia in April on charges of felony cocaine and misdemeanor marijuana possession.
In April 2007, DiTrapano was sentenced to 24 months in prison, which is the maximum allowed under federal guidelines for violating terms of his supervised release. U.S. District Judge David Faber sentenced DiTrapano after he waived his right to the revocation hearing after he was cited with simple possession of methamphetamine by Charleston police. Guidelines recommended DiTrapano receive a three- to nine-month sentence, but Faber opted to sentence him to the maximum.
Just days before that hearing, DiTrapano had surrendered to U.S. Marshals after he had been wanted on charges that he violated terms of his release following a conviction last year on federal firearms charges. In the April 1 police report, Patrolman Justin A. Hackney said he found what he suspected was a crack pipe in DiTrapano's rear pocket along with some white powder residue and less than a gram of meth.