CHARLESTON – Dante diTrapano’s law license has been reinstated.
The state Supreme Court on June 5 issued a 4-1 opinion granting his request for reinstatement.
“I was humbled to get the call from (Supreme Court Clerk) Eydie Gaiser reporting my reinstatement,” diTrapano said. “God is good! I am grateful that the court heard my petition in the spirit necessary to reach this decision.
“I want to thank everyone who believed in me. I look forward to representing the great people of our state and carrying the message of hope to those who struggle with life.”
The court reinstated diTrapano’s license effective immediately on the condition that he works for two years under the supervision of another attorney who will file monthly reports with the Office of Disciplinary Counsel. He also must continue his monitoring agreement with the state Judicial & Lawyer Assistance Program, pay his due to the state Bar and reimburse the Lawyer Disciplinary Board for the cost of the proceedings.
DiTrapano had his law license annulled in 2007 after a series of incidents involving drugs, guns and other charges. He was indicted in 2006 on two gun and drug charges. He petitioned to court to readmit him to the bar in 2012, but that request was denied. The court heard his latest petition, originally filed in 2016, in April.
In the majority opinion, Justice Beth Walker wrote that the court declined to adopt the Office of Disciplinary Counsel’s position that a convicted felon may never be reinstated to practice law.
“Mr. diTrapano’s demonstrated sobriety for the past 11 years and lack of any additional misconduct walk hand-in-hand and demonstrate a maturity that was lacking as of the date of his disbarment,” Walker wrote, also noting his continual participation in assistance programs, counseling and community service programs as well as his voluntary entry into the five-year WVJLAP monitoring agreement.
“It is undisputed by the ODC that he possesses the legal competence to resume the practice of law,” Walker wrote. “We find that Mr. diTrapano has demonstrated by clear and convincing evidence a record of rehabilitation sufficient to overcome the severity of his past misconduct. …
“We see no reason the public confidence in the administration of justice would be adversely affected by the reinstatement of Mr. diTrapano’s law license when he has served the sentences imposed upon him in the criminal proceedings and has shown an exemplary record of rehabilitation through WVJLAP and other addiction counseling.”
In April during oral arguments, diTrapano told the five justices he “will treasure my law license and that if you ever see me here again it will not be for any disciplinary matter.”
“The last 12 years have been a very humbling experience for me,” diTrapano told the justices. “And I’ve been through a lot of things, and I put my family through a lot of things.
“And I’m very sorry for it. I’ve taken full responsibility for my conduct. I’ve suffered significant consequences, but I’ve deserved all the consequences I’ve suffered — including disbarment and including having my petition denied in 2014.
“I’m here today because I continue to work through some issues, and I continue to stay sober. I celebrated just two weeks ago, April 10, 11 years of sobriety. I’ve moved forward with my life. I’ve regained the things that are really important. I regained my family. I’ve regained my health, and I’ve regained my peace of mind. And I just want another opportunity to practice law.”
DiTrapano told the court said he thinks the WVJLAP program has helped him with the court’s concern for public protection for his reinstatement.
“And even beyond that, your honors, my family, my wife and my children are entirely in tune with everything that I’m doing,” diTrapano said. “My employer, Stuart Calwell, I meet with him every day. Rod Jackson has been a huge source of support for me. I attend church every Sunday. I play tennis with the same person every Saturday morning.
“My life is consistent. The people in my life love me more than they love this profession. If anything would be askew whatsoever, they would not hesitate to report it.”
In April, Justice Robin Jean Davis asked diTrapano what makes him a better candidate for reinstatement now as opposed to 2014.
“The precise difference is I’ve accepted total and complete responsibility for everything I’ve done,” he said. “I’ve got an additional four years of sobriety. I’ve made amends to all of the people in my life. I have no problems with any relationship in my life. I have met the standards that are required to be reinstated, including with this Lawyer Assistance Program, the public protection.”
Chief Justice Margaret Workman praised diTrapano in a concurring opinion.
“Every family in West Virginia and indeed the nation has been touched in some way by the tragedy that accompanies the disease of addiction and the almost insurmountable challenges of recovery,” she wrote. “Dante diTrapano has demonstrated not only strength, courage and determination in his long path to recovery, but the willingness to give generously of his time, energy and life experience to others on that same journey. …
“I write separately to emphasize that our decision today sends the message that there is hope in the battle against the disease of addiction that so many families are facing; and to make clear that West Virginia’s legal profession, including our disciplinary system, supports the recovery and rehabilitation of impaired lawyers. The Amici Curiae Brief of the LAP aptly describes this matter as the opportunity for this court to ‘embrace the miracle of a colleague who is one of our own.’”
Workman also mentioned diTrapano’s father Rudy, a prominent Charleston attorney who died last year.
Rudy “made a statement about his son, which, in part, reads: ‘I believe that when Dante is reinstated he will flourish as a lawyer, and he will make the members of this court proud that they took the appropriate action on his license.’”
Workman also said she believes diTrapano will treasure his law license like he said during oral arguments.
“And I hope and believe that he will also treasure, preserve, and continue his remarkable lifelong journey of recovery,” she wrote. “He has the potential to make major contributions not only to our legal system, but also to the recovery community by continuing to share his time, his energy, and his life experience to help others on the difficult road to recovery.”
Justice Allen Loughry was the lone vote against diTrapano, and he wrote a dissenting opinion.
“I commend the petitioner for the many improvements he has made in his life in recent years,” Loughry wrote. “According to the testimony presented before the Hearing Panel Subcommittee, he is now sober, employed, and a benefit to both his family and his community. Nonetheless, I believe the petitioner’s prior professional misconduct – including serious misconduct against a client that is conspicuously absent from the majority’s discussion – dictates that he should not be readmitted to the practice of law.”
West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals case number 16-0869