State Supreme Court annuls law licenses for Ketchum, four others

By Kyla Asbury | Oct 22, 2018

CHARLESTON — The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals has annulled the law licenses of five West Virginia attorneys, including former Justice Menis Ketchum.

The court annulled the licenses of Ketchum, Michael P. Cooke, Michael Harper, Stephen C. Sluss and Lee B. Benford on Oct. 4, according to several orders filed with the court.

Ketchum pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud August. He resigned and retired the previous month from the Supreme Court. His sentencing is scheduled Dec. 6. Ketchum, 75, faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Ketchum used a state-owned vehicle to commute from his home in Huntington to the court in Charleston starting in 2012, according to the information charging him with one count of wire fraud. Ketchum also charged the state for the gas he used, according to prosecutors. The vehicle, a 2007 Buick Lucerne, was supposed to be used only for business. He also used the car to travel to a "private golf club in western Virginia” at least seven times, according to the information.

The Office of Disciplinary Counsel filed a petition seeking Ketchum's license annulment Sept. 13.

The hearing panel subcommittee of the Lawyer Disciplinary Board recommended Cooke's law license be annulled in May. The LDB agreed to the recommendation and Cooke did not file a consent or objection. 

In 2017 the Supreme Court suspended Cooke's law license for two years for committing several violations.

The complaints against Cooke included one by the ODC; one by Dana Eddy, executive director of the West Virginia Public Defender Services Department; and one by a former client.

On Nov. 26, 2014, Eddy wrote to Cooke about certain “billing anomalies,” including times in which Cooke was found to have exceeded 15 billable hours a day on 31 dates from January-September 2014. Also, there were four dates on which he submitted vouchers for 23 or more billable hours. On two dates, he allegedly submitted vouchers for greater than 24 hours. 

Eddy also said Cooke’s actual time billed seemed suspicious, saying it appeared Cooke billed the same travel time to multiple matters, billed multiple entries of the same activity and amount of time on multiple matters and outright duplicate billing of activity on the same file.

Also, Eddy noted the cumulative amount of time Cooke was billing PDS. From 2011 through 2014, Cooke billed $122,300.50, $108,474.50, $128,654.00 and $157,291.50, respectively. His annual hours billed during this time period ranged from a low of 2,279.3 hours in 2012 to a high of 3,259.46 in 2014.

“Significantly, although Cooke has not been formally disciplined previously, he was ‘strongly warned’ in the Investigative panel’s dismissal of another complaint in October 2013 that future violations of Rule 1.3 (diligence) and 1.4 (communication) would subject him to more severe discipline,” Workman wrote.

The ODC recommended the annulment of Harper's law license in April.

Sluss previously pleaded guilty to receiving child pornography and was ordered to serve 15 years on federal supervised release after completion of his prison term. He will also be required to register as a sex offender and was ordered to pay a special assessment of $5,000.

Sluss admitted that on April 1, 2017, he received videos of prepubescent minors engaged in sex acts. The videos were received by Sluss via the Internet. The investigation revealed that Sluss was using a web-based chatting service to access and download child pornography.

Sluss further admitted to possessing more than 600 images and videos of minors engaged in sex acts, and that some of those images involved sadistic conduct.

The ODC recommended Benford's law license be annulled in June. Benford consented to voluntary disbarment and filed a formal affidavit under seal.

West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Case numbers: 17-0945, 18-0794, 18-0389, 18-0191, 18-0476

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