Alderman admission prompts magistrate recusal
A new magistrate must be appointed to hear evidence against a former county commissioner and board of education employee, who stated in court Monday morning that the evidence against him is true.
Special Magistrate Charles D. Beard said Norman Alderman should not have testified in a hearing that he did, in fact, possess sensitive student and personnel records at his home before they were confiscated in August by the Pocahontas County Sheriff's Department as the result of Alderman being charged with stalking and harassment by computer. Alderman told Beard he had records of Pocahontas County students, as well as student records from Greenbrier, Roane and Cabell counties, among others.
"You have admitted to me that you have material, not only from Pocahontas County, but from other counties," Beard told Alderman. The magistrate said he was supposed to be neutral and detached, but was hearing testimony he shouldn't be hearing.
Alderman, once employed as a technology consultant at the Pocahontas County Board of Education, said he was authorized to have student data that included Social Security Numbers, dates of birth, information regarding conditions of students, students who qualify for free and reduced lunch, test scores, substitute teacher lists, special needs students and special education students. Alderman was fired from that position for insubordination four years ago.
"[It was] lots of data-years of data," Alderman said. "If this data gets out, it could result in the county losing massive amounts of federal aid."
During his magistrate court appearance Monday, Alderman told Beard that he wants computers and data storage devices, including compact discs, digital video discs and external hard drives, returned to him in accordance with Beard's October order. Alderman said Sheriff David Jonese was in contempt of court for having failed to return his property after misdemeanor charges against him were dropped because Beard earlier ruled that Magistrate Kathy Beverage was not impartial when she signed the initial search warrant.
When Alderman came to the courthouse to retrieve his property in October, he was arrested for felony possession of computer data or computer programs belonging to another. The complaint was filed by the Pocahontas County Board of Education and substitute teacher Rebecca Clayton.
Alderman has confessed to having the data to Prosecuting Attorney Donna Price, to this newspaper, on his own website and now, to Beard. Price was recused from the case, as well.
His argument that he is authorized to have the data was brushed aside by Beard.
"When you are terminated from them and you hold...their material, I'm not sure how you were authorized," Beard said.
"I have never admitted I have possessed that data unauthorized," Alderman said.
Beard dismissed Alderman's claim that Jonese was in contempt of court.
The magistrate did rule that any of Alderman's property found not to belong to the board of education should be returned to him, but told Alderman that none of that data would be returned to him.
"Had this new felony charge not arose, then the sheriff would have had to return everything they took, but that new charge came about," Beard said. "They cannot return that [data] to you because you do not have authorization. They cannot return board of education material to you."
"If the board of education material is found, then you'll possess it until we figure out what we're going to do with it," Beard told lead investigator Major David Walton.
Walton said he wanted to obtain a statement from Beard as part of the investigation into Alderman's felony case.
Alderman did not say whether he had personal contracts with other counties or if his services were contracted through the Pocahontas County Board of Education. He later declined to answer questions concerning possible contracts with other counties and whether or not any Pocahontas County Board of Education official knew about his outside work.
"Enough has been said," Alderman wrote in an email.
A spokesperson at the board office said Monday that personnel there were not aware of Alderman retaining records for other counties.
"We didn't know what he had," the source said.
Law enforcement officers first confiscated Alderman's computers because he was accused of stalking County Commissioner David Fleming and harassing him by use of a computer. Alderman's quest to discover Fleming's address after the commissioner was divorced caused Fleming to fear for his personal safety, according to the complaint against Alderman. Alderman allegedly asked for a "community watch" to discover where Fleming "went to bed at night and woke up in the morning."
Alderman is free on $10,000 property bond for the felony charge and on personal recognizance bonds for the misdemeanor charges, which were brought against him a second time.
A conviction on the felony charge could result in fines up to $10,000, 10 years in prison, or both.
Getting a new magistrate and a new prosecuting attorney could take several weeks, meaning that the case may not be ready for the December grand jury, which convenes December 7.