CHARLESTON - Despite a magistrate later setting it aside, the state Bar has sanctioned John W. Alderman III for failing to not only report his 2006 drug-related conviction, but also not answering truthfully about it in the course of a civil trial.
On June 10, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel admonished Alderman for not reporting a no contest plea he entered to a misdemeanor charge of receiving and transferring stolen property on Nov. 3, 2006. Though a Kanawha County magistrate later set aside the conviction at the request of Alderman's then-attorney, John R. Mitchell Jr., ODC said Alderman was still obligated to report it to them.
According to both court records, and the complaint, which ODC initiated on Aug. 16, 2007, Alderman was arrested on Oct. 30, 2006, and charged with one count each of attempting to obtain a prescription drug by forgery, a felony, and receiving and transferring stolen property, a misdemeanor. Four days later, the forgery charge was dismissed in exchange for Alderman entering a no contest plea to the receiving and transferring charge.
He was fined $160.50, and ordered to pay it within 180 days.
Despite the plea, Alderman maintained his innocence. Eventually, Mitchell, who encouraged Alderman to take the plea, made a motion on March 8, 2007, to have the plea set aside since he failed to inform Alderman of its ramifications, and that Alderman was "in a state of duress" when he made it.
On April 23, Magistrate Carol Fouty granted Mitchell's motion by entering an "affirmative finding of innocence on this and any related charges" and ordering the "police record stricken in full."
However, on Jan. 22, four months before Fouty granted Mitchell's set-aside motion, Alderman was asked about it during a deposition in a civil suit. The specifics of the suit is not stated in ODC's complaint.
During the deposition, the opposing counsel, who also is not identified in ODC's complaint, first asked Alderman if he'd been a defendant in any "criminal lawsuits" which he answered "no." Also, Alderman answered negatively when asked about "any other criminal actions" in which he'd been involved.
In his response, which ODC noted he timely filed, Alderman said he answered the way he did because, in his opinion, there's a difference between "a 'criminal lawsuit' and 'criminal proceedings.'" Though ODC found that argument unpersuasive, it took note of his action on March 9, 2007, to file an errata sheet to the deposition.
According to the complaint, Alderman "amended his answer to indicate that if the examining lawyer was also intending to inquire about any criminal cases against him the answer was " 'yes.'"
In his closing letter, Stephen Jory, chairman of ODC's investigative panel, said that Alderman was duty bound to report his conviction to ODC despite his claim that Mitchell advised him otherwise. He reminded Alderman of the state Supreme Court's opinion in the 2006 case of Lawyer Disciplinary Board v. Ball warning "[l]awyers who engage in the practice of law in West Virginia have a duty to know the Rules of Professional Conduct and to act in conformity therewith" and "a claim of lack of knowledge of any prohibition or duty imposed under the Rules is no defense in a lawyer disciplinary proceeding."
However, in light of Alderman taking the steps to correct his testimony in the civil case, and, after its own independent inquiry of the 2006 in which it found "no credible evidence to establish [he] committed a violation of the law," ODC felt an admonishment was the most suitable punishment. Alderman accepted the admonishment as he did not file an objection to it within the 14 days he was allotted.
From frying pan into fire
Ironically, the admonishment came a week after Alderman was again arrested on drug-related charges. In addition to being charged with one count of simple possession of a controlled substance -- the prescription medication Aprazolam -- he was also charged with possession with intent to deliver crack cocaine.
While on bond on those charges, Alderman was arrested again on Sept. 1 after Kanawha County Sheriff's deputies found him in possession of Xanax without a prescription, and two homemade pipes, following a traffic stop. In addition to possession, Alderman was charged with obstructing an officer after a video showed him ditching the pipes when the deputy wasn't looking.
Prior to his Sept. 1 arrest, Alderman, 45, who was admitted to the Bar on May 12, 1993, was senior vice-president, and chief legal counsel of City Holding Company, the parent company of City National Bank. He'd been in that position since April 1997.
However, in a report it filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, City Holding stated that Alderman departed the company on Aug. 10. It is unclear if Alderman resigned or was fired.
Currently, Alderman is incarcerated at the South Central Regional Jail pending release on $12,500 bond on the Sept. 1 charges. As a result of that arrest, a motion to revoke his bond from the June 3 charges is pending in magistrate court.