Bar association has no inquiry concerning attorneyﾒs actions
The Pocahontas County Sheriff's Department used outside counsel to bolster its cases against several alleged drug offenders last month, much to the dismay of Prosecuting Attorney Donna Price, who later told county commissioners that she was awaiting an advisory opinion from the West Virginia Bar Association about that attorney's action.
A WVBA spokesperson said no inquiry into Charleston attorney Robert Martin's involvement with the Pocahontas County Sheriff's Department, or any other complaint, had been made.
Price said Tuesday she'd asked for an opinion the week of May 16. She said she'd made the inquiry by telephone and not in writing and had been curious as to why she hadn't gotten an answer more than a month later.
Previously, Price said, she'd been able to get an opinion in that manner in conjunction with another attorney about whether or not a juvenile was able to testify.
She said she plans to pursue an opinion regarding the sheriff's department using Martin as outside counsel.
According to two local attorneys, the WVBA does not give advisory opinions into an attorney's conduct; it only rules on complaints filed against attorneys and will also guide an attorney seeking advice on his own.
Martin, who represents the sheriff's department in two civil cases, is not seeking any compensation for his advice on more than 20 drug arrests in May.
Price asserted to the commission that she was "left with the aftermath" of the sheriff's decision to consult Martin. She also accused Martin of "boasting" about his consultation with the sheriff.
"Bob can float in here today and out tomorrow, and whatever he does I'm left cleaning up," she said.
On the day of the drug arrests, Martin said that the cases were as good as any he'd seen.
Sheriff David Jonese said last week that he'd consulted Martin because Price has maintained in court that evidence in several of his department's drug cases is insufficient, including one that involved video-taped evidence. Jonese said Price claimed that the complaint was inadequate and the perpetrator could not be identified; however, Jonese said the man was plainly visible on the video.
The defendant in that case pled guilty to a misdemeanor.
Price said Tuesday that the video did not show the defendant from the chest up. Further, she said, the sheriff's department did not get a video surveillance warrant.
"Rarely will they consult me to give them guidance," Price said. "There's a rift and a trust issue they blame me for."
Price did not go into detail on the record.
"I'm making sure that our evidence and the cases presented to her are solid," Jonese said. "I didn't want us to get thrown under the bus."
Jonese said Martin does similar work with sheriffs' departments in Boone and Kanawha counties.
While the WVBA does not have either inquiry or complaint into Martin's conduct, it does have on record two complaints against Price.
One of those was resolved in 2010 with no disciplinary action recommended against her. That complaint was filed by a former defendant who claimed that her hearings were always continued. The West Virginia Office of Disciplinary Counsel dismissed her complaint because both Price and the defendant's attorney had agreed to her case being continued.
The other case is open and "cannot be discussed," according to a WVODC spokesperson.
Price said the complaint was filed by "another professional elected official." The complaint, she said, is a "list of allegations" she has answered through her own attorney because of the complaint's "nature and depth."
"The end game could be my license," she said. "The nature of this complaint directly attacks me in my professional capacity."
Letters from other entities-including the Pocahontas County Sheriff's Department, the Department of Health and Human Resources and a third party- that augment the complaint were solicited, Price said.
A written inquiry to the WVODC concerning the 2010 case has not been answered.
Martin recently filed pre-candidacy papers for the office of prosecuting attorney. Price said she plans to stand for re-election next year.