Hampshire attorney consents to disbarment

By Lawrence Smith | Mar 6, 2009

CHARLESTON -- In the midst of both ethical and criminal charges filed against him for embezzling money from former clients, a suspended Hampshire County attorney has voluntarily surrendered his law license.

The state Supreme Court on Feb. 26 ordered that the law license of Donald P. Cookman be annulled. The Court's order shows the Lawyer Disciplinary Board, the prosecutorial arm of the state Bar, petitioned for the annulment on Jan. 28 after Cookman voluntarily consented to be disbarred.

In West Virginia, an annulment is an automatic five-year prohibition from practicing law.

The annulment comes five months into a one-year suspension Cookman was serving by previous order of the Court. The suspension was punishment for a nine-count statement of charges filed against Cookman by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, the Bar's investigative arm on Aug. 21, 2007 after finding merit to complaints lodged by 11 of his former clients.

A statement of charges acts as an indictment for disciplinary purposes.

Records show a month after the Court ordered his suspension, ODC filed a new statement of charges against Cookman. In its statement, ODC alleged Cookman committed 10 violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct in the cases of five former clients.

According to the statement, Cookman, 41, of Romney, was charged with violating a combination of Rules pertaining to diligence, communication, safekeeping of property and answering an investigative inquiry in the cases of Todd P. Davis, Anna G. Fuller, John B. Arndt, Cynthia J. Kessell and Marion D. Herriott. In the latter case, ODC alleged that Cookman "improperly and illegally" converted $151,199.86 belonging to Herriott that she entrusted to Cookman via her power-of-attorney, Cheri Beverage, from the settlement in an investment scam.

The money he pocketed from Herriott's account, records show, is the lion's share of nearly $180,000 he embezzled from Herriott and two other clients. Last month, Cookman was charged in Hampshire Magistrate Court with three counts of embezzlement and four counts of forgery.

According to court records, two of the forgery charges stem from the 2007 statement of charges where Cookman forged the signature of Grant Circuit Judge Andrew M. Frye on fake judgments awarded to two clients, Walter O. Johnson and James C. Buckley, totaling $1.1 million.

A preliminary hearing on the criminal charges is pending the outcome of March 26 meeting scheduled between Cookman, his attorney and Jefferson County Prosecutor Ralph Lorenzetti, who has been assigned as a special prosecutor to the case.

West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, Case No. 34465

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