Commission delays payment of prosecutor’s attorney fees
County commissioners delayed action on Prosecuting Attorney Donna Meadows Price’s legal fees last Tuesday, essentially telling her it’s a win or lose situation.
Commission president David Fleming said he’d been able to find no good comparable situation in any other county, and Commissioner Jamie Walker said he wanted to wait for the outcome of her hearing before the Office of Disciplinary Counsel next month.
Price was charged last year in a nearly 60-page document that alleges failure of competence and diligence, alleged failure to expedite litigation and achieve fairness to opposing party and counsel, as well as impartiality and decorum, and alleged misconduct.
An unabashed Price told the commission last Tuesday that the charges, which she said were “intentionally and maliciously brought,” stem from a conspiracy against her that has been ongoing since shortly after she took office in 2009.
“This was the biggest attack on me by far that they have made,” she said. “There’s been a continual barrage to push me to quit.
“I’ve got a little more fortitude than that—irregardless of what they think or what they try to do to me,” she added.
While Price did not name names last Tuesday, the charges against her were brought to the ODC by Chief Judge Joseph Pomponio, Judge James Rowe, Sheriff David Jonese, representatives of the Department of Health and Human Services and the Child Youth Advocacy Center.
“They’re doing their thing, and I’m good with that,” she said. “I’ve done nothing; I welcome this.”
Price submitted a bill for nearly $20,000 from the Charleston law firm Ranson and Ranson, which equals 16 months of representation, she said. The commission has already paid nearly $10,000 for her legal fees. That firm no longer represents her, she said, because she couldn’t pay the bill.
“They worked very hard for me and that’s nowhere near the amount of work they’ve put in on my case,” she said. “I believe these gentlemen deserve what’s owed.”
Price said she has two other attorneys willing to help her.
The prosecutor said she cannot carry liability insurance because she is an elected official. “You are my liability insurance,” she told the commission.
Price said she wanted to publicly air her side of the charges. “Let’s put it all into perspective,” she offered. “I want my position out there in front of the public so they understand what I’m up against and what I’ve been up against.”
“Our government is becoming a tyrant, taking advantage of technologies that exist to stifle others who don’t want to conform or comply with behaviors they don’t agree with,” she said.
Price said her professional troubles began when she wrote a letter to the West Virginia State Police asking for an investigation into a deputy sheriff. Again, she did not say which deputy sheriff; however, former deputy sheriff Brad Totten was indicted in April on a dozen sexual misconduct charges, and indicted again in August on 47 similar charges.
She said she wrote the initial letter on August 4, 2011. By mid-September, she said, she was served with this complaint, which was supposed to be confidential, but ended up in the newspaper, which Price said was “inappropriate.”
Complaints before the Office of Disciplinary Counsel are indeed confidential; however, once the complaint is resolved with either no action or with formal charges, it is a matter of public record. Price gave an interview about those formal charges in December.
But in June 2011, Price addressed a complaint against her at the ODC in an interview with this newspaper. At the time, she said the complaint was brought by another professional elected official, and that letters from the Pocahontas County Sheriff’s Department, the DHHR and a third party which augmented the complaint were solicited.
Price said Tuesday night there was no connection between the first complaint, which she said was filed in February, 2011, and the formal charges against her.
“Those allegations did not end up in the statement of charges,” she said.
The prosecutor said she found the dates of her letter seeking an investigation and the statement of charges “ironic.”
“It’s obvious to see that it’s retaliation,” she said. “We’re in a community of a police state where you’re afraid to move, you’re afraid to breathe, you’re afraid to do anything.”
Since the charges were filed against her, Price said she has been ordered to complete not only her own orders, but also court orders not completed by her predecessor.
Price said when she took office, there were “hundreds” of missing orders dating back to 1998 and that she has had difficulty completing them with no paper files. The prosecutor said she had to reconstruct almost every one of the files and obtain written notes from the circuit clerk.
“I was not left with files or with access to files,” she said. Price said she had pictures from the day she she first entered her office where “piles and piles of shredded paper on the floors and bags and bags of shredded documents” greeted her. “I started behind the 8-ball,” she said.
Former Pocahontas County Prosecuting Attorney Walt Weiford said those allegations are not true.
“There were some final orders remaining to be done in cases that had been concluded and in which there was nothing more to be done other than enter a final order,” Weiford said last week. “Her characterization that there are hundreds of those is an exaggeration. Her suggestion that we shredded files is nothing short of a desperate lie.”
“And none of these excuses and claims have anything whatsoever to do with the charges brought against Price by the ODC and for which she is incurring fees that she wants paid by the commission,” he concluded.
Weiford said his office had gone “paperless,” and that Price did not approach either him or his staff before they left at the end of 2008.
According to Circuit Clerk Connie Carr, 220 final orders were incomplete at the beginning of Price’s term; however, she said she has provided courtroom notes for all 220 cases to Price’s office so that the work could be completed. Carr said that although the number seemed high, the actual work involved in preparing final orders should not be time consuming.
Further, she said Weiford contacted her after he left office to ask about completing those orders.
Carr added tht all elected officials have to complete a certain amount of work left by their predecessors.
Carr’s statistical report is maintained to keep track of activities of cases on each judge’s docket for timeline purposes.
According to that statistical report at the end of 2011, Carr said 182 final orders were not completed; of those, 59 were Price’s, she said. By the end of August, 59 of Weiford’s final orders were still not complete.
Carr said that sometime during the last year Rowe had begun doing his own orders for juvenile cases, including those prior to 2009.
Price also accused the former prosecutor of sabotaging the office’s computer network, saying that the “pathway to my network was severed.” Price said this week that she now has access to scanned documents, which took four months to recover. The documents were neither deleted nor removed, she said.
Weiford said the office’s wireless network required a password, which could have been changed. The software for the router was left in the office, he said.
“Things would have been much easier for her if she had come by after the primary to see how things were set up, how they were organized, or if she had simply asked Jenny [Wagner, Weiford’s former secretary] who was right down the hall,” Weiford said.
Weiford said he had another wireless router for the courtroom that may have been disconnected after he left office.
At the meeting, Price said the complainants in the case had refused to sit down to resolve the issues.
The prosecutor’s cause was championed by former county commissioner Norman Alderman, who told the sitting commissioners that he planned to file another complaint against the sheriff, and said he assumed that Jonese would want the commission to pay his bills.
Alderman told commissioners that whatever they did for Jonese they must do for Price.
“I happen to think this is a sexist thing,” Alderman said.
Alderman has filed a federal lawsuit alleging false arrest and civil rights violations because of an August 2010 incident in which Fleming filed charges against Alderman for stalking and harassment by computer. Price, Jonese and all three county commissioners, as well as Magistrate Kathy Beverage are named in the suit. Subsequently, Alderman was charged with possessing computer data belonging to another when he posted a video on his website claiming that the computer hard drives and peripherals confiscated during his arrest contained student and personnel data from Pocahontas and other counties. All the 2010 charges have been dismissed without prejudice.
Justin St. Clair from Monroe County has been appointed special prosecutor to review those cases.
Alderman was more recently arrested in downtown Marlinton on a speeding violation. That charge had been dismissed without prejudice while the arresting officer was not available.
After the lengthy presentation, commissioners seemed to be sympathetic to Price’s situation and Fleming said he would check with the Board of Risk Management to find out if she is covered. Walker said he wanted to wait for the outcome of Price’s hearing set for mid-October. He said if the prosecutor is exonerated of these charges, then the county should pay for her attorney; however, he said, if the charges against her are proven to be true, Price should pay for her own legal counsel.
In other business, commissioners:
• decided to wait until November to make a contribution to Pocahontas County Free Libraries to make the Linwood Library a permanent part of the county’s library system. Library board representatives said Linwood has been able to come close to covering its own expenses.
•named the Greenbrier Valley Economic Development Corporation the county’s official economic development agency. The GVEDC covers Greenbrier, Monroe and Pocahontas counties.
•heard from Durbin Town Councilman Mike Vance concerning the imminent closure of the Durbin Magistrate’s office, which was ordered by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. Vance said the closure was “political,” and that he had been in contact with Governor Earl Ray Tomblin’s office. The issue is on the agenda for the commission’s next meeting.
•took no action on a request from Chittum Land Development concerning utility and fire fees at the Pocahontas County Day Report office, which is in the former McK Building in Marlinton.
•approved a budget revision for the Green Bank gallery. The commission contributed funds for signage to the gallery. Those signs were completed for less money than budgeted, and representatives of the gallery asked that the remaining money be used for barcoding.
The commission meets again in regular session October 2 at 8:30 a.m.
Pamela Pritt may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org