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Former defense attorney appeals conviction for practicing law without a license to U.S. Supreme Court

December 27, 2011|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthew.umstead@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — A former Martinsburg defense attorney has appealed his 2010 criminal conviction for practicing law without a license to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The petition by Steven M. Askin was filed Dec. 5, according to the Supreme Court’s online docket system.

However, it does not mean the nation’s highest court will hear the case.

The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals ruled in June that “sufficient evidence” was presented to uphold the verdict by 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge Gina M. Groh in Berkeley County Circuit Court.

Indicted on the criminal statute in February 2009, Askin was fined $1,100 — $100 each for 11 misdemeanor counts of practicing law without a license.

Askin said in a telephone interview Tuesday that his petition argues that an administrative rule devised by the state Supreme Court of Appeals was applied in the prosecution of his case rather than the law passed by the state Legislature in violation of the “separation of power” principle.

In his two-day bench trial in November 2010, Askin testified that he might have violated state court rules for unlawfully practicing law that are enforced administratively, not criminally, by the West Virginia State Bar and the state Supreme Court.

Askin also contends that the state’s criminal statute for practicing law without a license provides for the prosecution of individuals who pretend or advertise that they are licensed to practice law. He insists he is not guilty of that.

Askin’s license was annulled by the state’s high court 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.

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

Askin, 63, said Tuesday that he doesn’t have “the energy or desire” to practice law full time, but hasn’t lost the desire to help people in a limited capacity.  

Witnesses who testified in Askin’s trial said he didn’t charge a fee for helping them prepare legal motions and other documents, and indicated they already knew he wasn’t a lawyer, or Askin told them he wasn’t able to represent them.

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