WHEELING – A McMechen attorney who was stopped by police while transporting 10 bricks of heroin to a drug dealer more than four years ago while in the throes of opioid addiction will be suspended from practicing law for the next two months.
The West Virginia State Supreme Court of Appeals ruled Friday to suspend the law license of George Sidiropolis for 60 days followed by a 22-month probationary period.
Sidiropolis was pulled over by Pennsylvania State Police near Washington in March 2015 while transporting 10 bricks of heroin from a supplier to his drug dealer in the Wheeling area. He was charged the following June in federal court in the Northern District of West Virginia with conspiracy to distribute heroin.
He successfully completed West Virginia’s Drug Court Program – a federal diversionary path as part of a plea agreement – in October 2016 and filed a motion to dismiss the charge in May 2017, which was granted by U.S. District Judge John Preston Bailey.
In writing the majority’s opinion to grant a 60-day suspension of his law license, Justice Evan Jenkins noted that Sidiropolis had turned his life around and was working to help other addicts.
“The conduct underlying these disciplinary proceedings is quite serious and reflects how addiction issues, particularly involving heroin, are becoming all too common in our State and our Nation,” Jenkins wrote. “However, this proceeding offers encouragement that recovery is possible with the proper assistance. Thus, while Mr. Sidiropolis’ criminal conduct cannot be ignored, we find it appropriate in this instance to, in determining the proper sanction, recognize his hard-earned recovery and his dedication to his own sobriety and to that of others around him.”
Sidiropolis had injured his back in a serious car accident in 2008 and used prescription opioid pain killers until 2013 or 2014, when he realized he had become addicted. He attempted to quit taking them, but later turned to heroin, which he eventually began using four times a day, court records indicate.
On March 27, 2015, he attempted to meet his usual drug dealer, but could not reach the person. Instead, he contacted the dealer’s supplier and drove to Pittsburgh, where he purchased heroin for personal use and agreed to transport 10 bricks of heroin back to Wheeling.
On his way home, he was stopped by troopers in Pennsylvania and failed a field sobriety test. Investigators found the 10 bricks of heroin wrapped in a shopping bag, according to court documents. While in custody, he agreed to cooperate with authorities, and was later put in contact with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration and Marshall County Drug Task Force.
Following his plea agreement, he completed 500 hour of community service, helped to start a New Year’s retreat for recovering addicts and organized Narcotics Anonymous meetings, including some in jails and rehabilitation facilities. He has not used drugs since the night of his arrest, according to court documents.
Supreme Court Justice Tim Armstead applauded Sidiropolis for his “remarkable recovery from addiction,” but took exception with what he termed a light law license suspension and whether it would be a sufficient deterrent for others.
“While I congratulate Mr. Sidiropolis on his recovery efforts and wish him further success, I am of the opinion that the de facto 60-day suspension is overly generous in view of the facts surrounding his attempted transport of heroin from Pennsylvania to West Virginia, and in view of the need to restore public confidence in the legal profession,” Armstead wrote in his dissenting opinion.
Supreme Court Justice Margaret Workman wrote a concurring opinion that agreed with the suspension, but indicated she was torn by the decision.
“On one hand, Mr. Sidiropolis has done an outstanding job of pulling himself out of the throes of active addiction and rebuilding his life,” Workman wrote. “Such a sustained recovery is not easy. I respect what he has accomplished and how he is helping others with the same disease. But the circumstances of what led to this disciplinary proceeding are disturbing.”
She raised concerns about others who have faced much stiffer punishment for lesser charges, asking “where is the equal justice?”
“While truly equal justice is a rarely obtainable concept, because factual scenarios differ so much and judicial decision-making can vary greatly, at least in the context of professional ethics, a degree of consistency should be sought,” Workman wrote. “Sadly, not everyone has the means to access addiction treatment, which furthers the inequality of opportunity of individuals to address addiction.”
His Wheeling attorney, David Jividen, did not return phone messages seeking comment on the case.