Lawyer Disciplinary Bd. v. Sidiropolis, No. 17-1134

CourtSupreme Court of West Virginia
Writing for the CourtJenkins, Justice
Citation242 W.Va. 20,828 S.E.2d 839
Parties LAWYER DISCIPLINARY BOARD, Petitioner v. George N. SIDIROPOLIS, A Member of the West Virginia State Bar, Respondent
Docket NumberNo. 17-1134
Decision Date07 June 2019

242 W.Va. 20
828 S.E.2d 839

LAWYER DISCIPLINARY BOARD, Petitioner
v.
George N. SIDIROPOLIS, A Member of the West Virginia State Bar, Respondent

No. 17-1134

Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia.

Submitted: April 24, 2019
Filed: June 7, 2019


Rachael L. Fletcher Cipoletti, Chief Lawyer Disciplinary Counsel, Office of Lawyer Disciplinary Counsel, Charleston, West Virginia Attorney for the Petitioner

David A. Jividen, Jividen Law Offices, Wheeling, West Virginia, Attorney for the Respondent

Jenkins, Justice:

828 S.E.2d 842

This lawyer disciplinary proceeding against George N. Sidiropolis ("Mr. Sidiropolis") was brought to this Court by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel ("ODC") on behalf of the Lawyer Disciplinary Board ("LDB"). The sanctions recommended by the Hearing Panel Subcommittee ("HPS") of the LDB include, among other things: a two-year suspension; a stay of the two-year suspension after sixty days have been served for imposition of a twenty-two month period of supervised probation (with the supervised probation being subject to various conditions and requirements); automatic reinstatement at the end of the sixty-day suspension; suspension for the remainder of the original two-year suspension period, upon proper petition to this Court, if the conditions and requirements of the supervised probation are violated; reinstatement requiring a petition pursuant to Rule 3.32 of the Rules of Lawyer Disciplinary Procedure if the conditions and requirements of the supervised probation are violated; and random drug and alcohol screening throughout the period of suspension and supervised probation along with the execution of a monitoring contract with the West Virginia Judicial and Lawyer Assistance Program. The ODC, LDB, and Mr. Sidiropolis all agree with the sanctions recommended by the HPS. Upon careful review of the record submitted, the parties’ briefs and oral arguments, and the relevant law, this Court finds that the sanctions recommended by the HPS, which are supported by the ODC and the LDB, are appropriate under the circumstances of this case.

I.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Mr. Sidiropolis was admitted to the West Virginia State Bar on January 10, 2007. Accordingly, he is subject to the disciplinary jurisdiction of this Court and its properly constituted LDB. Below we set out the conduct underlying this disciplinary matter as well as the relevant procedural history.

A. Underlying Conduct and Factual Background

Mr. Sidiropolis practices law in Wheeling, West Virginia, and his practice is concentrated in the area of insurance law. The events that led to Mr. Sidiropolis’ conduct underlying this disciplinary proceeding originated in 2008 when Mr. Sidiropolis was involved in an automobile accident. As a result of the automobile accident, Mr. Sidiropolis suffered herniated disks with nerve root impingement. To manage his resulting pain, Mr. Sidiropolis was prescribed the opioid drugs Vicodin1 and Oxycodone.2 While the record does not suggest that the prescriptions were provided unlawfully, Mr. Sidiropolis did testify at his hearing before the HPS that he was prescribed these drugs in large quantities. Mr. Sidiropolis received various types of treatment to relieve his pain, including physical therapy, chiropractic manipulation, epidural steroidal injections, and other less-effective

828 S.E.2d 843

medications, but he found that the opioid drugs being prescribed to him provided the quickest relief from his pain and allowed him to work; therefore, he increasingly relied on the prescribed drugs to relieve his pain.

Admitting his naiveté with respect to the opioid pain medications being prescribed to him, Mr. Sidiropolis testified that he used them without concern from 2008 until sometime in 2013 or 2014, when he finally came to realize he was addicted to them. At that time, he visited a Suboxone3 clinic in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and was given a prescription for ninety doses of the drug, which he used over a period of about six months. After that, based upon the belief that he would be unable to return to the pain clinic where he had previously been given prescriptions for the opioid pain medications, Mr. Sidiropolis began to purchase the prescription medications "off the street." During this time, Mr. Sidiropolis also tried to quit using the opioid medications "cold turkey," but the withdrawal symptoms were severe and resulted in him being admitted to the hospital on multiple occasions. Thus, he continued to use the drugs, and, eventually, due to the high cost and unavailability of illegal prescription opioid medications, he transitioned to heroin, a stronger and cheaper alternative for managing his pain. According to Mr. Sidiropolis, he "didn’t necessarily use drugs" for their "euphoric effect." Instead, he sought "to maintain ... a baseline" to manage his pain. Once he made the change to heroin, however, his "use just spiraled" and "was just unconscionably bad." He explained that at the height of his addiction, he was using heroin four times a day.

Mr. Sidiropolis still was practicing law while abusing heroin, but, with the intention of taking some time away from work to try to overcome his addiction, he began to wind down his practice and had obtained co-counsel for a number of his cases. Nevertheless, on March 27, 2015, Mr. Sidiropolis sought to purchase heroin. He testified during the ODC hearing that

[t]he individual who would deliver drugs to me wouldn’t answer his telephone. I reached out to his supplier and he was actually in Wheeling, although he lived in the Mt. Washington area [of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania]. ... I met him at a Rite Aid in Elm Grove, which is in Wheeling, and followed him to his home in the Mt. Washington area of Pittsburgh[,] where I purchased heroin and used a small amount at his home.

On his return to Wheeling, Mr. Sidiropolis was stopped in Washington, Pennsylvania, by Pennsylvania State Police. During the course of the stop, Mr. Sidiropolis was asked to perform various field sobriety tests, which he was not able to complete. A K9 search of the exterior of Mr. Sidiropolis’ vehicle resulted in the K9 giving an alert signaling the presence of illegal drugs, so an interior search of the vehicle was conducted. Upon searching the interior of the vehicle, Pennsylvania State Police found a shopping bag with ten bricks of heroin wrapped in newspaper. Mr. Sidiropolis was taken into custody for DUI and transported to a hospital for chemical blood testing. Thereafter, he was transported to the Pennsylvania State Police Station for questioning, where Mr. Sidiropolis gave a detailed statement and agreed to cooperate with the authorities. In addition, contact was made with a special agent of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration and with the Marshall County, West Virginia, Drug Task Force. After several hours, Mr. Sidiropolis was released to his father. According to Mr. Sidiropolis, he has not used heroin since this incident.

By letter dated June 22, 2015, Mr. Sidiropolis, through counsel, self-reported the above-described incident to the ODC; he also informed the ODC that the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of West Virginia had charged him, by information, with one count of conspiracy to distribute heroin in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) (2012)4 and 21 U.S.C § 846 (2012).5 The letter

828 S.E.2d 844

also advised the ODC that Mr. Sidiropolis had been cooperating with federal and state drug task forces, had begun working to combat his drug addiction, and was petitioning the United States District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia to accept him into the newly formed federal Drug Court Program.6 Finally, according to the letter, Mr. Sidiropolis had, prior to his encounter with the Pennsylvania State Police, acquired co-counsel on the cases he was handling, and, subsequent to said encounter, he informed his co-counsel of his current situation and each counsel agreed to continue with the joint representation. Mr. Sidiropolis also contacted the West Virginia Judicial and Lawyer Assistance Program ("JLAP") to seek help to overcome his substance abuse. The record indicates that, during this time, Mr. Sidiropolis also had begun participating in a twelve-step addiction recovery program.

Mr. Sidiropolis then reached a plea agreement with the United States wherein he agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute heroin.7 The plea agreement

828 S.E.2d 845

was filed by order of James E. Seibert, United States Magistrate Judge, on June 24, 2015.8 In addition, Mr. Sidiropolis formally applied to participate in the federal Drug Court Program. He was accepted into the program on July 6, 2015.

In accordance with his participation in the Drug Court Program, Mr. Sidiropolis attended daily group therapy, cognitive behavior therapy, and individual therapy. In addition, he performed 500 hours of community service9 and self-help, and, during the course of his Drug Court Program participation, he tested negative on more than 150 urine screens, and had no positive urine screens. Mr. Sidiropolis’...

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8 practice notes
  • To Err is Human, to Apologize is Hard: the Role of Apologies in Lawyer Discipline
    • United States
    • Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics Nbr. 34-3, July 2021
    • 1 Julio 2021
    ...(D.C. Ct. App. 2016); Brooks v. Bd. of Prof’l Responsibility, 578 S.W.3d 421, 427 (Tenn. 2019); Lawyer Disciplinary Bd. v. Sidiropolis, 828 S.E.2d 839, 856 (W.Va. 2019) (Workman, J., concurring); Off‌ice of Lawyer Regulation v. Mandelman, 912 N.W.2d 395, 402 (Wis. 2018). 305. In re Snyder, ......
  • In re Goldston, 20-0742
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • 19 Noviembre 2021
    ...of our plenary review, to reject or qualify Judge Goldston's admissions. Law. Disciplinary Bd. v. Sidiropolis , 241 W. Va. 777, 785, 828 S.E.2d 839, 847 (2019) ("Because the relevant facts underlying this disciplinary proceeding are not disputed and Mr. Sidiropolis has voluntarily stipulate......
  • In re Goldston, 20-0742
    • United States
    • Virginia Supreme Court of Virginia
    • 18 Noviembre 2021
    ...of our plenary review, to reject or qualify Judge Goldston's admissions. Law. Disciplinary Bd. v. Sidiropolis, 241 W.Va. 777, 785, 828 S.E.2d 839, 847 (2019) ("Because the relevant facts underlying this disciplinary proceeding are not disputed and Mr. Sidiropolis has voluntarily stipulated ......
  • In re Goldston, 20-0742
    • United States
    • Virginia Supreme Court of Virginia
    • 18 Noviembre 2021
    ...of our plenary review, to reject or qualify Judge Goldston's admissions. Law. Disciplinary Bd. v. Sidiropolis, 241 W.Va. 777, 785, 828 S.E.2d 839, 847 (2019) ("Because the relevant facts underlying this disciplinary proceeding are not disputed and Mr. Sidiropolis has voluntarily stipulated ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
7 cases
  • In re Goldston, 20-0742
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • 19 Noviembre 2021
    ...of our plenary review, to reject or qualify Judge Goldston's admissions. Law. Disciplinary Bd. v. Sidiropolis , 241 W. Va. 777, 785, 828 S.E.2d 839, 847 (2019) ("Because the relevant facts underlying this disciplinary proceeding are not disputed and Mr. Sidiropolis has voluntarily stipulate......
  • In re Goldston, 20-0742
    • United States
    • Virginia Supreme Court of Virginia
    • 18 Noviembre 2021
    ...of our plenary review, to reject or qualify Judge Goldston's admissions. Law. Disciplinary Bd. v. Sidiropolis, 241 W.Va. 777, 785, 828 S.E.2d 839, 847 (2019) ("Because the relevant facts underlying this disciplinary proceeding are not disputed and Mr. Sidiropolis has voluntarily stipulated ......
  • In re Goldston, 20-0742
    • United States
    • Virginia Supreme Court of Virginia
    • 18 Noviembre 2021
    ...of our plenary review, to reject or qualify Judge Goldston's admissions. Law. Disciplinary Bd. v. Sidiropolis, 241 W.Va. 777, 785, 828 S.E.2d 839, 847 (2019) ("Because the relevant facts underlying this disciplinary proceeding are not disputed and Mr. Sidiropolis has voluntarily stipulated ......
  • Hanover Res., LLC v. LML Props., LLC, No. 17-1089
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • 7 Junio 2019
    ...and that the circuit court erred by finding that the contractual language in the Coal Subleases was determinative. We disagree. We can 828 S.E.2d 839 easily dispose of this issue because West Virginia Code §§ 38-3-22 and -23 are only triggered if the requirements for West Virginia Code §§ 3......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • To Err is Human, to Apologize is Hard: the Role of Apologies in Lawyer Discipline
    • United States
    • Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics Nbr. 34-3, July 2021
    • 1 Julio 2021
    ...(D.C. Ct. App. 2016); Brooks v. Bd. of Prof’l Responsibility, 578 S.W.3d 421, 427 (Tenn. 2019); Lawyer Disciplinary Bd. v. Sidiropolis, 828 S.E.2d 839, 856 (W.Va. 2019) (Workman, J., concurring); Off‌ice of Lawyer Regulation v. Mandelman, 912 N.W.2d 395, 402 (Wis. 2018). 305. In re Snyder, ......

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