The West Virginia Supreme Court temporarily suspended the law license of a Marion County attorney whose failure to communicate with a client resulted in the client being wrongfully incarcerated for more than a year.
In a 3-2 decision, the high court suspended the license of David M. Anderson for six months, according to a news release from the Office of Lawyer Disciplinary Counsel.
The court ordered Anderson serve 60 days of the suspension, and he will serve the rest of the six-month term under supervised probation.
Anderson also will have to complete six additional hours of continuing legal education and reimburse the Office of Lawyer Disciplinary Counsel for the cost of proceedings in his case.
Chief Justice Beth Walker and Justices Evan Jenkins and John Hutchison ruled in the majority, and Justices Margaret Workman and Tim Armstead dissented, saying the suspension was not a harsh enough punishment for an attorney whose actions led to such a lengthy wrongful incarceration.
The Lawyer Disciplinary Board found that Anderson failed to remain in touch with a client, whom he was appointed to represent in 2010, in a criminal case despite multiple letters and orders from a circuit judge to do so.
By February 2012, Anderson’s client was serving a jail sentence for a previous conviction when he was indicted on new charges. That month, Anderson represented his client in circuit court for an arraignment hearing.
Anderson’s client’s sentence on the first charge ended on March 29, 2012, but the client remained incarcerated on the second charge because he had not posted bond.
In September 2012, Anderson’s client contacted the judge in his second case saying he had not spoken with Anderson since February 2012 and didn’t know the status of his case.
As a result, the judge in his case dismissed the indictment in November 2012 and sent a copy of his order to Anderson.
Anderson didn’t contact his client and didn’t send him a copy of the order.
During the next year, Anderson’s client contacted the circuit judge three times, and the judge thrice directed Anderson to contact his client. Anderson did not get in touch with his client during that time.
On Jan. 16, 2014, Anderson’s client was able to contact a Morgantown attorney, whom he heard about from another inmate.
That attorney looked into the client’s case, and she found the November 2012 order dismissing the incitement against him.
The Morgantown attorney sent the 2012 order to the regional jail where the client was incarcerated, and he was released from jail the same day he called her.
The man spent 433 days in jail without any pending charges, retainers or remaining sentences imposed, according to the Supreme Court opinion.
The client subsequently filed a lawsuit and received an undisclosed settlement payment for his wrongful incarceration.