Martinsburg attorney's license to practice law suspended for one year

Michael S. Santa Barbara is to undergo psychological and/or psychiatric counseling

June 07, 2012|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD |
  • Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — The state Supreme Court has suspended a Martinsburg attorney’s license to practice law for one year due to “professional transgressions” stemming from complaints filed by former clients and the Office of Disciplinary Counsel.

During his suspension, Michael S. Santa Barbara, 52, is to undergo psychological and/or psychiatric counseling to “deal with depression and alcohol abuse issues until such time that it is determined by the treating psychologist or psychiatrist that treatment is no longer necessary,” the court concluded in a 23-page opinion filed Thursday.

Santa Barbara also must complete eight hours of continuing legal education in office management and office practice within the next 24 months and reimburse the Lawyer Disciplinary Board for costs incurred for the disciplinary proceeding.

The attorney’s suspension and other sanctions were recommended by the hearing panel subcommittee of the disciplinary board, according to the court opinion.

The hearing panel found that Santa Barbara failed to oversee and manage a trust account established for a client dating back to a $50,000 settlement, which stemmed from a “slip-and-fall” case against Wal-Mart.


The panel also said the attorney failed to return phone calls or provide adequate explanations to three other clients, and missed notice and filing deadlines in their cases.

In arguing against suspension, Santa Barbara contended that much of his behavior during the time frame of the complaints was influenced by his “debilitating depression resulting in part from the disturbance caused by an employee,” according to the court opinion.

That employee was prosecuted in federal court for “bilking” Santa Barbara and his wife out of tens of thousands of dollars, according to the disciplinary board’s brief, which was cited in the court’s opinion.

The court also noted that Santa Barbara presented extensive evidence that he suffered from a mental disability or impairment, but indicated no record was provided to indicate he recovered or that he took steps toward rehabilitation.

The hearing panel indicated it would have likely recommended a longer period of suspension if Santa Barbara’s emotional state and circumstances contributing to that state had not been present.

Santa Barbara’s suspension comes less than two months after he pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges after being accused of pointing a handgun at several people and threatening to shoot them at a boat-dock party last year.

Santa Barbara pleaded to single counts of brandishing and carrying a concealed weapon without a license and was ordered to complete 50 hours of community service in lieu of a 30-day jail sentence, which was suspended as part of a plea agreement.

Santa Barbara, of 45 Radnor Lane, also was fined $500 and ordered to pay court costs.

“I shudder when I think about what could have been the consequences of what I did,” Santa Barbara said of the incident, which happened near his home in the Whitings Neck area of northern Berkeley County.

The partygoers told police that Santa Barbara “racked” his weapon, a .380-caliber handgun, and ejected a round to show everyone that the gun was loaded, and “asked who wants to be the first” in a confrontation with them, according to court records.

Records indicate police responded to investigate the incident at 12:22 a.m. Aug. 15 off Piedmont Way near the Potomac River.

Santa Barbara was first admitted to the state Bar in 1991, according to court documents.

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