CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Former Charleston attorney Dante DiTrapano has been very clear with clients at the Calwell Practice that he is not a lawyer, witnesses told the Office of Disciplinary Counsel Wednesday.
But he wants to be one again.
DiTrapano, 50, was disbarred in 2007 following a guilty plea to a felony firearms charge, which came on the heels of a 2006 drug arrest in Florida involving cocaine.
He petitioned the state Supreme Court last summer to reinstate his law license and appeared Wednesday with his lawyer, Robert Davis, at the state Office of Disciplinary Counsel for the first of two scheduled hearings.
Friends, family and co-workers said during Wednesday's hearing that DiTrapano is a changed man and deserves a second chance. They also said they would take action if he fell back into his old addictions.
Stuart Calwell, who operates The Calwell Practice on Charleston's West Side, hired DiTrapano to work for him as a paralegal in 2009. He testified that he did not know Dante but knew his father, Rudy DiTrapano, a longtime Charleston lawyer who was present for part of Wednesday's proceedings.
Calwell testified that he interviewed Dante and thought his experience would benefit the law firm. Calwell offered him a position as a paralegal and later, after seeing his work with clients and others in the office, offered him an additional role as his executive assistant.
Calwell stood behind Dante even after he was charged in 2009 with providing false information, and Calwell testified on his behalf in federal court. He told the judge that he intended on keeping an eye on him if he was granted supervised release. He said he was prepared to make that promise to the state Supreme Court if DiTrapano's law license is reinstated.
He told Rachael Fletcher Cipoletti, the chief lawyer for the disciplinary counsel, during the hearing that if DiTrapano slipped up, he would report him.
"I would be willing to report him," Calwell said. "I'm not the person, my firm is not the person to hold somebody's hand and say, 'Please get better.' "
Harry Dietzler, a Charleston attorney and longtime friend of DiTrapano, said he also supported his friend but would alert authorities if he thought it was necessary.
"I'd turn him in," said Dietzler, also a former Charleston city councilman. "To do anything other than turn him in would be like throwing him in the river."
Dietzler was one of about a dozen witnesses prepared to testify Wednesday on DiTrapano's behalf.
Dietzler said his son and DiTrapano's are friends and the two lawyers met when their children were young. The two emailed back and forth while DiTrapano was in prison.
James Coleman, DiTrapano's father-in-law and a retired Malden lawyer, testified that his son-in-law is a bright man and well educated but has had problems. He said DiTrapano found his faith and has turned his life around.
Coleman said he visited DiTrapano often while he was incarcerated and went to a halfway house in Rand where he was staying to drive him to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Coleman, a recovering addict himself, also attends regularly.