CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Dante diTrapano, whose addictions caused his personal and professional life to spiral out of control, spoke on his own behalf this morning to ask the state Supreme Court to grant his law license back.
“I’m really grateful to be here today and to ask this court to please give me another chance to practice law,” diTrapano said this morning to the five justices on the Supreme Court.
“The last 12 years have been a very humbling experience for me. I’ve been through a lot of things, and I put my family through a lot of things. I’m very sorry for it. I take full responsibility for my conduct. I suffered significant consequences, but I deserved all the consequences I suffered — including disbarment.”
DiTrapano, a Charleston attorney, had his law license annulled in 2007, after a series of run-ins with the law.
He had been indicted in 2006 on 22 counts charging him with possessing various firearms while being an unlawful user of a controlled substance.
The state Lawyer Disciplinary Counsel filed for annulment of diTrapano’s law license after he entered a guilty plea to the crime “involving moral turpitude and professional unfitness.”
Since then, diTrapano has been going through substance abuse and family counseling while also working in support roles for Charleston law firms. He says he has been sober the whole time.
“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,” he said today. “And I just want another opportunity to practice law.”
He petitioned in 2012 to be readmitted to the bar, but the Supreme Court then denied his request.
His quest for reinstatement began again in 2016. In doing so, diTrapano went through a process with a hearing panel subcommittee.
Members of the hearing panel wrote in their report, “The question then for the panel was whether petitioner is ready to come back to law practice as a sober, competent practicing member of the bar and would the public have confidence that he is?”
The hearing panel recommended that diTrapao’s law license be reinstated once he completes his West Virginia Lawyers Assistance Program monitoring agreement Nov. 30, 2021.
“The panel is in agreement that petitioner’s misconduct that led to petitioner’s disbarment was extremely serious but is mitigated in part by his addictions,” the hearing panel wrote.
But the Office of Lawyer Disciplinary Counsel opposes diTrapano’s reinstatement.
The office wrote in a brief that diTrapano “has failed to demonstrate requisite rehabilitation.” The office described his past behavior as “extremely serious, egregious and dishonest.”
Joanne Vella Kirby, lawyer disciplinary counsel, spoke before the Supreme Court today in opposition to diTrapano’s effort to regain his law license.
“The nature of the underlying offense is such a serious nature and goes to issues of disregard for the law, honesty and a history,” Kirby told the justices this morning.
But, upon questioning by justices, Kirby acknowledged that diTrapano has behaved well during the four years since he last petitioned to have his law license reinstated.
“Between 2014 and 2018, the office agrees that petitioner had a very commendable record of his employment, his continued recovery efforts, his role within the community and guiding others,” Kirby said.
DiTrapano’s battles with addiction date back to his teenage years. He was a recreational user until the death of his younger brother in an automobile accident, diTrapano wrote in his brief to the Supreme Court.
He started treatment for his addictions in 1988 and remained drug- and alcohol-free for about 15 years.
DiTrapano got married, started a family, completed college, earned his law degree and started work in his father’s law firm in Charleston. He actively focused on his sobriety for the first 10 of the 15 years he was sober, diTrapano wrote.
In 2004, life took a turn.
He was coughing and wheezing while coaching his son’s sports team. A father of one of the players, a physician, offered him a prescription for cough syrup, diTrapano wrote in his brief. It contained hydrocodone.
“Petitioner knew he should not have taken the medicine, but he did anyway and quickly became addicted,” diTrapano wrote.
For the next year, he abused the cough syrup and then moved on to abusing oxycodone.
More events during that period shook him, diTrapano wrote.
In 2005, the 5-year-old son of a friend accidentally drowned in diTrapano’s family pool. And the best friend of diTrapano’s wife died in their home, where she had been living.
After those events, diTrapano wrote, he “spun completely out of control” and began smoking crack cocaine.
In early 2006, his family and friends intervened. He agreed to seek treatment.
But in March 2006, diTrapano was arrested in Florida and charged with cocaine possession. He pleaded not guilty and posted bond with the condition that he report to a treatment facility for substance abuse.
Just a couple of months after that, he was indicted by the federal grand jury.
By May 10, 2007, the Supreme Court entered an order granting the annulment of diTrapano’s law license.
Back before the Supreme Court this morning, diTrapano described himself as a better man.
“I promise this court that I will treasure my law license and that if you ever see me here again it will not be for any disciplinary matter,” he told the justices. “Thank you very much.”