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Former lawyer found guilty of practicing law without a license

May 13, 2010|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- A well-known former Martinsburg defense attorney has been found guilty of 11 misdemeanor counts of practicing law without a license.

Steven M. Askin, 62, is scheduled to be sentenced June 24, according to a 46-page conviction order signed by 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge Gina M. Groh and filed in Berkeley County Clerk Virginia M. Sine's office Wednesday.

Askin could be fined as much as $1,000 for each misdemeanor offense.

Groh presided over a two-day bench trial in November, then considered final legal arguments and proposed orders submitted by Askin and Berkeley County Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Christopher Quasebarth before making her decision.

Askin, 62, said Thursday he was unaware of Groh's ruling and that he intends to appeal the case to the state Supreme Court of Appeals.

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"I'm disappointed if she's found me guilty," Askin said.

Askin said he does not believe he is guilty of the offenses and he hopes the high court agrees with his view.

Indicted by a Berkeley County grand jury in February 2009, Askin has said that no individual had been criminally prosecuted statewide on charges of practicing law without a license since the statute was enacted 86 years ago.

Askin's license was annulled by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals in 1998, two years after he voluntarily surrendered it. He entered a guilty plea in 1996 to criminal contempt for refusing to testify before a federal judge in a May 1994 drug trial of four defendants, including one of his clients. All four were convicted.

He served a six-month, 20-day prison sentence in Cumberland, Md.

Askin testified in November that he might have violated state court rules for unlawfully practicing law that are enforced administratively by the West Virginia State Bar and the state Supreme Court of Appeals.

"I still don't think (these allegations) come anywhere close to (West Virginia Code) 30-2-4," Askin said, referring to the criminal statute for practicing law without a license.

Individuals who testified during the two-day trial said they talked with Askin about their legal matters over meals at local restaurants and at Mountain State University's Martinsburg campus, where Askin teaches classes.

Almost every witness who met with Askin indicated they couldn't afford to hire an attorney and had met him through family members or friends.

Witnesses said Askin didn't charge a fee for helping them prepare legal motions and other documents, but a member of the West Virginia State Bar Committee for the Unlawful Practice of Law testified that monetary compensation is irrelevant when the panel considers whether legal services are being improperly provided.

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