A metro attorney who snorted cocaine at the Winona County Courthouse while he was representing a murderer was sentenced Monday to two days in jail and ordered to perform 240 hours of community work service.

Charles Ramsay, 43, of New Brighton, pleaded guilty in August to third-degree felony drug possession on Jan. 15, 2009. A misdemeanor drug charge was dropped.

Ramsay had been arrested after a Winona police investigator and a laboratory technician who had been called to testify in the murder trial noticed cocaine residue on a chair, table and floor of a conference room, just after Ramsay left it. The investigator then spotted Ramsay sniffing hard and wiping his nose after being in a nearby bathroom.

More officers were called to the courthouse, and they found five grams of cocaine in Ramsay's possession. He was arrested after the trial recessed.

In Winona Tuesday, Judge Jeffrey Thompson also fined Ramsay $2,500 and placed him on probation for 10 years. His felony conviction will be converted to a misdemeanor if Ramsay successfully completes his sentence, Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom said.

Backstrom's office handled prosecution of the lawyer after the Winona county attorney at the time removed himself to avoid a conflict of interest.

Backstrom said the seriousness of the crime was increased by where it happened, and because of Ramsay's appointed duties.

"This was a crime that occurred within a courthouse and was committed by an officer of the court at a time when he was in the process of representing a private client in a criminal case -- so certainly a very disturbing set of circumstances, and he was held accountable for that," Backstrom said.

Backstrom commended Ramsay, however, for acknowledging his drug problem and completing treatment at a private facility.

When arrested, Ramsay had been the defense attorney for a defendant named Jack Nissalke, who was on trial for murdering a woman 25 years earlier.

After Ramsay's arrest and pretrial publicity, Nissalke's trial was moved to Fillmore County. Nissalke later was convicted of fatally stabbing Ada F. Senenfelder in 1985 to silence her testimony against one of his associates.

Martin Cole, director of the Minnesota Lawyers' Professional Responsibility Board, said the board will decide whether to recommend that the Minnesota Supreme Court discipline Ramsay with sanctions against his law license.

Joy Powell • 612-952-882-9017