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Askin's law license on hold for five years

July 17, 1998

By CLYDE FORD

Staff Writer, Charles Town

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Former Martinsburg attorney Steven Askin said he was devastated by the West Virginia Supreme Court's decision Thursday to annul his law license.

As a result of Wednesday's unanimous, unsigned ruling, Askin cannot practice law for at least five years. He then can seek reinstatement.

"I was shocked," said Askin, 50. "They're not allowing me to practice law. I think it's a terrible injustice."

Askin said he was hoping to receive a two- or three-year suspension from the judges.

Since he had voluntarily given up his legal license on Feb. 1, 1996, a two-year suspension would have allowed him to resume practicing law immediately, he said.

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Askin pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Martinsburg in May 1995 to a federal contempt of court charge. He was sentenced in January 1996 to seven months in prison and then three years of supervised release. He completed his prison term but is still under supervised release.

Since his release, Askin said he's worked as a consultant to Martinsburg attorneys.

"I play a good role in strategizing. I work behind the scenes," said Askin, who practiced law for 17 years. "By taking me out of the legal system, they're really doing more harm to my clients."

Askin said he's not practicing law in his current duties, since he does not represent clients and does not appear in court.

"I'm basically doing paralegal work," he said.

The criminal charge against Askin stems from his 1994 representation of Mark McNulty, who was convicted of being a leader of the cocaine ring.

Askin had to turn the case over to others when he was called as a witness to testify about cocaine transactions with two of his clients. He refused to answer questions despite a grant of immunity and so was charged with criminal contempt.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Dave Godwin told U.S. District Judge Irene Keeley in an August 1996 hearing that Askin was a crack cocaine addict.

The Supreme Court said Askin's criminal conviction violates an ethics rule prohibiting lawyers from doing anything to adversely reflect upon their honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer.

Askin said the only thing he would change about his past is his drug use.

"The only regret I have is that I started to use drugs because of personal problems and it was a bad thing," he said. "I'm in an active recovery - four years clean."

If Askin's license is reinstated, he must practice under the supervision of another lawyer for two years, the court said.

On an unrelated issue, the court said Askin violated ethics rules by not paying an investigator money a client already had paid him for that purpose, failed to maintain proper records of trust account money and improperly commingled funds.

For that, the court suspended his license for six months and ordered him to pay $1,277 in restitution, plus 10 percent interest dating from May 1994. Since Askin placed his law license on inactive status in January 1996, he already has served the suspension.

The court also ordered him to pay the $6,444 cost of the ethics proceedings against him.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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