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Ex-attorney wins trial delay

May 20, 2009|By DAVE McMILLION

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- A well-known former Martinsburg defense attorney who has been criticized for his knowledge of how to delay the court system on Wednesday won a delay for himself.

Steven M. Askin convinced Berkeley County Circuit Court Judge Gina Groh to delay his trial scheduled for Friday, arguing he needs more time to prepare for the case.

Askin, who faces allegations that he practiced law without a license, said he needs the extra time because he learned the Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney's Office will use an expert witness in the case.

Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Chris Quasebarth told Groh he believed Askin had enough time to prepare for the case. Quasebarth suggested starting the trial with other witnesses and moving the expert witness to the end of the testimony portion of the trial.

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Groh sided with Askin.

"I do believe in fairness," said Groh, who rescheduled the trial for Nov. 18.

A Berkeley County grand jury in February indicted Askin on 11 counts of practicing law without a license. The indictment alleges nine people were counseled by Askin.

In Wednesday afternoon's hearing before Groh, Askin made two unsuccessful attempts to dismiss the case.

In one of the arguments for dismissal, Askin criticized the case against him, characterizing it as "nebulous" and "vague."

He also downplayed a reference to a letter that he once wrote to Monumental Life on behalf of someone. After the hearing, Askin said he agreed to write the letter for a friend as part of dispute the woman was trying to work out with her employer.

Askin said he did not understand how writing a letter would constitute a crime, and he said his clients knew that he could not practice law.

"I know I didn't go into a court of record and say, 'I'm a practicing attorney,'" Askin told Groh.

Groh talked about the uniqueness of the case and told Askin that anyone who would seek his assistance would realize that it would not be like going to a "neighbor who is a law student."

Groh referred to Askin's high-degree of skill when he practiced law. Askin, 61, of 412 S. Raleigh St., was an attorney from 1973 to 1996.

Askin, whose license to practice law in West Virginia was annulled more than 10 years ago, was released from federal prison in 1996 after serving a six-month, 20-day sentence in Cumberland, Md. He reported there in April 1996 after pleading guilty to criminal contempt for refusing to testify before a federal judge in a May 1994 drug trial of four defendants, including one of his own clients. All four were convicted.

In another motion to dismiss and disqualify the Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney's Office from the case, Askin referred to a letter that Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely wrote to the West Virginia State Bar asking the organization to not renew Askin's law license because he was training young lawyers on how to delay the court system.

Quasebarth responded by saying Games-Neely was simply looking out for the law profession.

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