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'West Wing' creator pleads not guilty to drug charges

Sorkin appears in Burbank County Court. He is free on $10,000 bail until his next court appearance, scheduled for June 4.  

BURBANK, California (CNN) -- The creator of the hit NBC television series "The West Wing" pleaded not guilty Wednesday to drug charges stemming from his arrest at Burbank Airport last month.

Aaron Sorkin, 39, was arrested April 15 at an airport security checkpoint as he prepared to board a flight to Las Vegas. Authorities said a suspicious bag inside Sorkin's carry-on luggage contained hallucinogenic mushrooms, a controlled substance in California.

Sorkin was charged with one felony count each for possession of cocaine base and for possession of hallucinogenic mushrooms. He was also charged with one misdemeanor count of possession of marijuana.

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Sorkin was originally arrested only for the mushrooms, but tests on other substances from the bag determined that he was also carrying rock cocaine and marijuana, according to the Los Angeles district attorney's office.

Asked what his thoughts were as he headed into the Burbank County Courts building for his arraignment, Sorkin replied, "They're embarrassing."

"Mr. Sorkin is genuinely humbled by the situation he is facing," said Steve Sitkoff, Sorkin's attorney, in a release from a public relations firm following the arraignment.

"He and his family are taking all necessary steps to ensure that he deals with the legal and personal matters at hand appropriately," Sitkoff said. "It is his sincere hope that his actions do not affect or reflect upon those with whom he works, cares for and respects."

Sorkin was present at the brief hearing where Sitkoff entered a plea of not guilty for him. The judge, Burbank Commissioner Kirkland Nyby, referred the case to a hearing on June 4.

At that time the court will hear an evaluation report from probation officials on whether Sorkin would be eligible for a diversion program. Sorkin also will have the option of changing his plea or proceeding to trial. Until that time, he remains free on $10,000 bail.

The maximum penalty for each of the felony drug counts is three years in prison. But Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the district attorney's office, said the report will consider any prior convictions in determining whether Sorkin would be eligible for a deferred program such as community service, drug treatment or several other options.

Sorkin has no prior convictions on drug charges. Successful completion of the program could erase the incident from his record.

Sorkin has admitted checking into the Hazelden Institute in Minnesota for treatment of a freebase cocaine habit in 1995. Several of his scripts for "The West Wing" have dealt with drug abuse, and the show portrays the president's chief of staff as a recovering addict.

Sorkin's other writing credits include the screenplay for "The American President" and both stage and movie versions of the military courtroom drama "A Few Good Men."

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