Court unsatisfied with recommended discipline of Charleston attorney

By Lawrence Smith | Feb 24, 2012

CHARELSTON – A Charleston attorney potentially faces a long hiatus from the practice of law for his multiple arrests on drug charges.

CHARELSTON – A Charleston attorney potentially faces a long hiatus from the practice of law for his multiple arrests on drug charges.

The state Supreme Court on Feb. 10 unanimously rejected a proposed recommendation by its Lawyer Disciplinary Board to place John W. Alderman III on a two-year suspension. The recommendation of the Board's hearing panel subcommittee filed on Dec. 27 specified one year be made retroactive based on Alderman's voluntary withdraw from practicing during 2010, and the other year be held in abeyance pending a two-year supervised practice in which he satisfies certain terms and conditions.

Among those include regular attendance at Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotic Anonymous meetings, a total of 30 hours of volunteer work with the state Bar's Lawyers Assistance Committee and submit to random drug screenings. Alderman, 47, a sole practitioner, on Jan. 3 consented to the recommendation.

The Board's recommendation came following an investigation by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel that Alderman was arrested twice in 2009 on drug charges. Shortly after the first arrest, ODC admonished Alderman for testifying falsely about a prior drug conviction.

Arrests bookend summer '09

According to court records, Alderman was arrested by Charleston police on June 3, 2009 when a search of his car found Aprazolam pills for which he did not have a prescription under his seat, and crack cocaine in an eye glass case on which he was sitting. After he was charged with one count of simple possession for the Aprazolam, a misdemeanor, and possession with intent to distribute for the crack cocaine, a felony, Alderman was released on a $5,000 personal recognizance bond on the condition he remain drug- and alcohol-free, and not be charged with other crimes.

However, three months later Alderman was arrested by Kanawha County Sheriff's deputies following a traffic stop at the intersection off U.S. 119 and Oakwood Road. A search of his car found two homemade pipes under the gearshift, and one and half bars of Xanax inside a cigarette case.

Along with possession of a controlled substance, Alderman was charged on Sept. 1 with obstructing when a dashboard camera inside one of the deputy's cruisers showed Alderman throwing the pipes off the Interstate bridge after the deputy placed them on the hood, and continued his search. Following his arrest, Alderman as taken to the South Central Regional Jail where he was held in lieu of $12,500 bond.

While incarcerated, the Kanawha County Prosecutor's Office made a motion to revoke Alderman's bond from the June 3 charges. However, it later moved to vacate the motion following a recommendation by Alderman's attorney, Marc Lazenby, that upon making bail for the Sept. 1 charges, Alderman would begin a 90-day inpatient treatment at Cumberland Heights, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in Nashville, Tenn.

Records show, in exchange for agreeing to plead no contest to obstructing, the prosecutor's office dismissed the possession charge. That resulted in Alderman receiving a suspended sentence of 30 days in jail, one year unsupervised probation and a fine of $209.50.

Though bound over to the grand jury on Sept. 16, 2009, the simple possession, and possession with intent to deliver changes from the June 3 arrest were dismissed on Feb. 17, 2011. Judge Jennifer Bailey dismissed the charges following a motion by Assistant Prosecutor Reagan Whitmyer that they had not been presented to the grand jury within a year after they were bound over.

Arrest leads to admonishment

A week after his arrest on the June 1 charges, ODC admonished Alderman about a prior drug-related conviction. ODC cited him for not only testifying falsely about it in an unrelated civil matter, but also failing to notify them about it.

According to court records, 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.

On March 8, 2007, Alderman's attorney, John R. Mitchell, Jr., made a motion to have the conviction set aside on the grounds he did not properly advise Alderman of its ramifications, and he made the plea under duress. Records show on April 23, Magistrate Carol Fouty granted the motion entering an "affirmative finding of innocence on this and any related charges" and ordering the "police record stricken in full."

Four months before Fouty granted Mitchell's set-aside motion, Alderman was asked about any "criminal lawsuits" or "any other criminal actions" in which he'd been involved during a deposition in an unspecified civil suit. Records show, Alderman answered negatively to both questions.

ODC opted to issue an admonishment rather than a harsher punishment because he later filed an errata sheet to his testimony in the deposition following Mitchell's set-aside motion. The admonishment along with his other arrests on drug charges were aggravating factors the Board cited in making its recommendation for suspending Alderman.

The Court is scheduled to hear Alderman's case on May 22. He is represented by Charleston attorney Ancil G. Ramey.

West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals case number 35705

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