The Virginia Supreme Court yesterday denied a bid by former Alexandria commonwealth's attorney William L. Cowhig to resume practicing law five years after he was disbarred in a sex-and-gambling scandal.
Cowhig, Alexandria's elected chief prosecutor from 1974 to 1979, lost his Virginia license in 1980 after the wife of a drug defendant alleged that she had performed sexual favors for Cowhig in exchange for a lesser prison sentence for her husband.
Now the owner of Tiffany's bakery in Daytona Beach, Fla., Cowhig, 60, seemed surprised yesterday at the high court's rebuff.
"I don't know if I'll reapply," he said slowly, in a telephone interview from his Florida home. "I don't know why they didn't reinstate me."
In a hearing in Richmond in April, Cowhig told the disciplinary board of the Virginia State Bar that he should be readmitted to the bar because he now leads a clean, Christian life.
"I think some of my neighbors are even shocked when I say 'Damn,' " he said, according to a transcript of the hearing. Be like Jesus, Cowhig urged the board, and remember the words, "Go and sin no more."
The disciplinary board recommended that Cowhig's appeal be rejected, apparently disagreeing with the former prosecutor's assertion that "the majority of people in Alexandria would welcome me back tomorrow."
"Based upon the people I have talked to, I don't know anyone who thinks he should be allowed to practice law," said attorney Stephen R. Pickard, a member of the Alexandria Bar Association's board of directors.
Pickard argued in the April hearing: "The harm that Mr. Cowhig caused to his office, to the profession of attorneys, and to the Alexandria police department is still felt deeply by the community."
Cowhig resigned as the city's chief law enforcement officer in 1979, after the sexual misconduct allegation was made public and after he was cleared of several bribery and gambling charges connected with city bingo parlors.
Remaining charges were dropped after Cowhig agreed to step down from the post of prosecutor.
Cowhig denies engaging in sodomy with 19-year-old Sherry Chenault, the defendant's wife.
Chenault was under indictment for possessing controlled drugs and her husband, Daniel W. Chenault, had been indicted for selling the drug phencyclidine when Cowhig said that Sherry Chenault came to his office one weekend in 1975.
Cowhig told the disciplinary board that although Chenault took off her pants and unzipped his trousers in his office, sodomy did not occur, nor did he promise to alter her husband's prosecution or sentencing.
Daniel Chenault was convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison. When the Cowhig incident was made known in 1979, however, the verdict was overturned. When a new trial was ordered, Chenault entered into a plea bargain and was freed from prison shortly afterward.
Sherry Chenault's lawyer, Gregory Murphy, called yesterday's ruling "the proper thing to maintain the integrity of the profession."
But Alexandria attorney Cullen B. Jones Jr., a longtime supporter of Cowhig, expressed disappointment and said: "I'm very sorry to hear that. He was an excellent trial attorney.
"He made some mistakes, but I don't think he should be disbarred for life. But I know I'm one of the few."