IN RE: PETITION FOR REINSTATEMENT OF L. DANTE DITRAPANO
Submitted: April 24, 2018
Dante diTrapano Pro Se Charleston, West Virginia Petitioner
Charles Bagley, Esq. Huntington, West Virginia W. Bradley
Sorrells, Esq. Charleston, West Virginia Counsel for Amicus
Curiae West Virginia Judicial and Lawyer Assistance Program
M. Vella Kirby, Esq. Office of Disciplinary Counsel
Charleston, West Virginia Counsel for Respondent
"This Court is the final arbiter of legal ethics
problems and must make the ultimate decisions about public
reprimands, suspensions or annulments of attorneys'
licenses to practice law." Syllabus Point 3, Comm.
on Legal Ethics v. Blair, 174 W.Va. 494, 327 S.E.2d 671
"A de novo standard applies to a review of the
adjudicatory record made before the [Lawyer Disciplinary
Board] as to questions of law, questions of application of
the law to the facts, and questions of appropriate sanctions;
this Court gives respectful consideration to the
[Board's] recommendations while ultimately exercising its
own independent judgment. On the other hand, substantial
deference is given to the [Board's] findings of fact,
unless such findings are not supported by reliable,
probative, and substantial evidence on the whole
record." Syllabus Point 3, Comm. on Legal Ethics v.
McCorkle, 192 W.Va. 286');">192 W.Va. 286, 452 S.E.2d 377 (1994).
"The general rule for reinstatement is that a disbarred
attorney in order to regain admission to the practice of law
bears the burden of showing that he presently possesses the
integrity, moral character and legal competence to resume the
practice of law. To overcome the adverse effect of the
previous disbarment[, ] he must demonstrate a record of
rehabilitation. In addition, the court must conclude that
such reinstatement will not have a justifiable and
substantial adverse effect on the public confidence in the
administration of justice and in this regard the seriousness
of the conduct leading to disbarment is an important
consideration." Syllabus Point 1, In re Brown,
166 W.Va. 226');">166 W.Va. 226, 273 S.E.2d 567 (1980).
"Rehabilitation is demonstrated by a course of conduct
that enables the court to conclude there is little likelihood
that after such rehabilitation is completed and the applicant
is readmitted to the practice of law[, ] he will engage in
unprofessional conduct." Syllabus Point 2, In re
Brown, 166 W.Va. 226');">166 W.Va. 226, 273 S.E.2d 567 (1980).
second time, L. Dante diTrapano petitions this Court for
reinstatement of his license to practice law in West
Virginia, which was suspended in 2006 and later annulled as a
result of multiple, serious acts of misconduct and two felony
convictions. When we denied his first petition four years
ago, we concluded that Mr. diTrapano did not satisfy his
burden of showing that he possessed the integrity and moral
character to resume the practice of law. He now presents
evidence that he has maintained sobriety and employment,
served his criminal sentence, entered into a voluntary
five-year monitoring agreement with the West Virginia
Judicial and Lawyer Assistance Program (WVJLAP), accepted
responsibility for his actions, mentored other lawyers
struggling with addiction, and made full restitution. The
Hearing Panel Subcommittee (HPS) found that his law license
should be reinstated with conditions upon completion of his
WVJLAP monitoring agreement. The Office of Disciplinary
Counsel (ODC), however, urges us to find that Mr.
diTrapano's two felony convictions altogether preclude
his reinstatement, regardless of his demonstrated
rehabilitation. Based upon the commendable record of
rehabilitation and actions since his first petition, we now
reinstate Mr. diTrapano's law license, but with
conditions, including two years of supervised practice and
continued compliance with his five-year WVJLAP monitoring
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
diTrapano began abusing illegal drugs as a teenager in
Charleston, West Virginia, and was arrested several times in
his early twenties for both possession of illegal drugs and
driving under the influence. In 1988, Mr. diTrapano began
in-patient treatment for addiction and on February 22, 1989,
he gained sobriety. Over the next fifteen years, Mr.
diTrapano earned an undergraduate degree, then graduated
summa cum laude from John Marshall Law School. He
was admitted to practice law in both West Virginia and
Georgia. Following law school, Mr. diTrapano returned to
Charleston and worked at the law firm of DiTrapano, Barrett,
& DiPiero. But he stopped regularly attending twelve-step
meetings, as had been his habit since 1989.
2004, Mr. diTrapano sought medical care for a cough with
chest pain and wheezing, but did not inform his treating
physician of his history of substance abuse. The physician
prescribed him a cough syrup containing hydrocodone and Mr.
diTrapano became addicted to the cough syrup and abused it
for the next year. Following the accidental drowning of a
five-year-old child in his family's pool, Mr. diTrapano
began abusing oxycodone and, eventually, crack cocaine.
2006, Mr. diTrapano traveled to Florida for a drug
rehabilitation program. However, rather than entering
treatment, he engaged in additional drug use and was arrested
for possession of cocaine. Three weeks later, a federal
search warrant was executed on his home in Charleston.
Officers seized several loaded firearms, ammunition, and
crack cocaine. Mr. diTrapano was arrested again shortly
thereafter in Georgia and charged with driving on a suspended
license and possession of cocaine. Then, approximately two
months later, Mr. diTrapano was arrested in West Virginia
for, among other things, driving on a suspended license and
having no motor vehicle insurance.
14, 2006, Mr. diTrapano was indicted in the United States
District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia on
two separate felony counts: (1) knowingly possessing various
firearms in and affecting interstate commerce while being an
unlawful user of and addicted to a controlled substance, in
violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(3) and 18 U.S.C. §
924(a)(2); and (2) knowingly making a false statement and
representation to a licensed dealer of firearms regarding his
dependence on a controlled substance in violation of 18
U.S.C. § 924(a)(1)(A). Mr. diTrapano was arrested the
following day pursuant to a federal arrest warrant.
that month, the ODC filed a petition seeking the immediate
temporary suspension of Mr. diTrapano's license to
practice law. That same day, he pleaded guilty to one count
of the federal indictment, after which he was released on
bond and ordered to report to the Prestera Center in
Huntington, West Virginia to complete a twenty-eight day
substance abuse treatment program. Following this program,
Mr. diTrapano was released on conditional home confinement
pending sentencing. But Mr. diTrapano violated the terms of
his release and, as a result, it was revoked in September of
2006. Right away, the ODC supplemented its petition to this
Court seeking immediate temporary suspension of Mr.
diTrapano's law license. We granted the ODC's
petition on September 14, 2006.
August of 2006, Mr. diTrapano was sentenced in federal court
to a term of imprisonment of six months and a term of three
years supervised release with a recommendation that he
participate in a substance abuse treatment program. After
serving his sentence but while still on supervised release,
Mr. diTrapano was again arrested on April 1, 2007, and
charged with simple possession of methamphetamine. Nine days
later, he tested positive for cocaine and morphine. The
federal court revoked Mr. diTrapano's supervised release
and ordered that he be imprisoned for two years without any
subsequent supervised release.
November 16, 2006, the ODC filed an amended petition seeking
the annulment of Mr. diTrapano's law license based upon
Rule 3.18 as a result of his felony conviction of a crime
involving moral turpitude and professional unfitness. The
petition also alleged that Mr. diTrapano violated Rule 8.4(b)
of the Rules of Professional Conduct, which states that it is
professional misconduct for a lawyer to "commit a
criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer's
honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other
respects." On May 10, 2007, this Court annulled Mr.
diTrapano's law license. His Georgia law license was
annulled the following year.
2009, following his release from federal prison, the United
States Attorney filed an information charging that in 2005,
Mr. diTrapano violated 18 U.S.C. § 1014 (2001) by making
false representations to a federally-insured bank to obtain a
$500, 000 loan. The following month, Mr. diTrapano pleaded
guilty to the felony charge based on stipulated facts.
Relevant here, those stipulated facts recite that Mr.
diTrapano and his client intended to invest in a $500, 000
project together at $225, 000 each, but that Mr. diTrapano
forged his client's signature to obtain the full $500,
000 loan in his client's name. The stipulated facts
further stated, however, that Mr. diTrapano used only $35,
000 of the total $500, 000 loan for non-loan related
court accepted the plea and sentenced Mr. diTrapano to one
day of imprisonment, five years supervised release, and 1,
000 hours of community service. In 2012, the federal district
court denied Mr. diTrapano's motion for early termination
of his supervised release. Mr. diTrapano completed supervised
release on January 14, 2015.
Mr. diTrapano's First Reinstatement Petition
1, 2012, pursuant to Rules 3.30 and 3.33 of the Rules of
Lawyer Disciplinary Procedure, Mr. diTrapano filed a petition
for reinstatement of his law license in West Virginia. The
ODC commenced an investigation and held two hearings to
address the matter, during which numerous witnesses appeared
to testify on behalf of Mr. diTrapano. Upon its review, the
HPS concluded that Mr. diTrapano had "presented an
impressive array of witnesses who testified at the hearing,
and individuals who provided letters in support" which
"clearly support [Mr. diTrapano's]
reinstatement." Further, the HPS determined that Mr.
diTrapano's "addictions were a major mitigating
factor" to the "egregious" nature of his two
felony convictions. But the HPS was cautious. Despite finding
that Mr. diTrapano "has proved a record of
rehabilitation by clear and convincing evidence, " the
HPS noted that a lengthy period of sobriety had preceded Mr.
diTrapano's 2004 relapse. As a result, the HPS
"recommend[ed] strong support and monitoring to be
included in any conditions for reinstatement."
the HPS concluded that even though Mr. diTrapano's
federal sentence of supervised release was intended to be
"rehabilitative rather than punitive, " it could
not conclude "that the reinstatement of [Mr.
diTrapano's] law license [would] not have a substantial
adverse effect on the public in the administration of justice
so long as [Mr. diTrapano] [was] serving his sentence of
supervised release." Ultimately, the HPS recommended
that Mr. diTrapano's "law license be reinstated
without further petition or hearings beginning at the end of
[Mr. diTrapano's] satisfactory completion and termination
of his sentence of supervised release, " subject to
the HPS's recommendation, this Court granted the
ODC's request to consider this matter and on June 18,
2014, we declined Mr. diTrapano's request to reinstate
his law license. We found that he had not then satisfied his
burden of showing that he possessed the integrity and moral
character to resume the practice of law. We further concluded
that reinstatement at that time would have a justifiable and
substantial adverse effect on the public's confidence in
the administration of justice.
Mr. diTrapano's Current Reinstatement Petition
years later, on September 16, 2016, Mr. diTrapano filed a
second petition for reinstatement. The ODC investigated and
filed an initial report with the HPS on June 26, 2017 and an
amended report on July 28, 2017. The HPS held hearings on
September 19-20, 2017. In addition to Mr. diTrapano's own
testimony, the HPS heard testimony on Mr. diTrapano's
behalf from William Stuart Calwell (lawyer and Mr.
diTrapano's employer), W. Brad Sorrells (lawyer and Mr.
diTrapano's peer mentor in WVJLAP), Dwaine Osborne
(friend of Mr. diTrapano), George Daughtery (lawyer and
former Executive Director of WVLAP), Teri diTrapano (Mr.
diTrapano's wife), ...