CHARLESTON – Dante diTrapano didn’t waste any time getting back in the courtroom.
Less than 24 hours after the state Supreme Court reinstated his law license, diTrapano was in a Kanawha Circuit Court courtroom representing a plaintiff in a case. A few days later, the jury ruled in favor of his client and handed down a $318,000 verdict.
“It was a cherry on top of a great week,” he said of the verdict. “I was able to be back doing what I love in the courtroom, and then we ended up being victorious, too.”
The case centered on a man named Joshua Samples, who was born with cerebral palsy as a result of medical malpractice. Shortly after his birth, a settlement was put into a trust for him at United Bank. The trust ordered trustees to take advantage of government programs to help provide for his personal care. But Samples’ attorneys argued that United Bank unnecessarily spent money out of the trust to pay for his care to the point that it wasn’t sustainable.
Chris Hedges was the lead plaintiff’s attorney on the case. Stuart Calwell and diTrapano – all from The Calwell Practice in Charleston – also worked the case for Samples. Two other defendants – Huntington National Bank and Greg R. Lord of The Lord Law Firm – settled before the case went to trial. With interest, diTrapano said the final amount could be about $625,000.
“The thing I like about being a lawyer most is helping other people,” diTrapano said. “This was a case where this kid really needed to have his trust returned or he was going to be stuck in a life of abject poverty. Chris Hedges from our firm did an excellent job preparing our case, and Stuart Calwell gave a great opening statement.”
In its June 5 ruling, the state Supreme 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.
“Of course, I was very excited when I was told about the Supreme Court ruling,” diTrapano said. “And, I understood the terms of the reinstatement. It involved paying the costs of the reinstatement process, making sure my CLE was up to date. I had to pay bar dues to state Bar, and I had to enter supervising contract. The ODC was very accommodating.
“This case was before (Kanawha Circuit) Judge (Joanna) Tabit, and I wanted to help with the case. I was helping as a legal assistant, helping go through jury strikes and things like that. The next day, we were starting to put together the evidence. And by the third day of trial, I was cross examining witnesses.
“Cross examining banking officials and arguing a case to the jury on behalf of a young man with cerebral palsy that desperately needed his trust account refunded was the culmination of everything that I love about the practice of law.
“Having that be my first week as a reinstated member of the West Virginia Bar is a feeling and experience that I can only describe as a true blessing.”
DiTrapano said it had to be the first time someone had a law license reinstated and ending up trying a case the next day.
“That’s probably never happened,” he said with a chuckle.
He also said the response he’s received from the state legal community after having his license reinstated has been “incredible.”
“I feel like the entire community has been supportive of my effort at reinstatement,” diTrapano said. “And they’ve rejoiced that the Supreme Court came to the decision they did. Not just about reinstating my license, but the complete way they approach addiction and recovery.”
DiTrapano also said he was particularly touched by Justice Margaret Workman’s concurring opinion in his reinstatement.
“I thought that was so strong,” he said of Workman’s opinion, which praised diTrapano’s recovery efforts and 11 years of sobriety. “It shows our court now recognizes the need for recovery. Addiction is a disease.”
“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,” Workman 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.”
DiTrapano said he agreed with Workman’s sentiment about his late father.
“Somehow, I felt he had a lot to do with my landing right back in the courtoom the day after I was reinstated,” he said. “That was his arena. He loved trials.
“For me to be reinstated and back in courtroom the next day, I could see my dad looking down and smilling.”
Kanawha Circuit Court case number 14-C-1345