Commission will not pay Price legal bills

Pocahontas County Board of Education Technology Coordinator Ruth Bland speaks to the Pocahontas County Commission during Tuesday morning's Commission meeting. Pictured, left to right: Commissioners Jamie Walker, David McLaughlin and William Beard, Commission Assistant Sue Helton and Bland.
Pocahontas County Board of Education Technology Coordinator Ruth Bland speaks to the Pocahontas County Commission during Tuesday morning’s Commission meeting. Pictured, left to right: Commissioners Jamie Walker, David McLaughlin and William Beard, Commission Assistant Sue Helton and Bland.

During Tuesday morning’s meeting, the Pocahontas County Commission resolved that it will not pay legal bills incurred by former Prosecuting Attorney Donna Price. Instead, the Commission will seek re-payment from Price of more than $13,000.

The Commission received a letter from Lewisburg attorney Christine Stump, on behalf of Price and Elkins law firm Triplett and Triplett. The letter demanded payment of legal bills in excess of $100,000, including a charge of $93,540 from Triplett and Triplett. Price incurred the bills while defending herself from charges of attorney misconduct filed by the West Virginia Office of Disciplinary Counsel. The West Virginia Supreme Court found Price culpable of misconduct on three of those charges.

Commission attorney Robert Martin contradicted Stump’s claim that Price had been found culpable on just one charge.

“She had hearing boards,” he said. “In both those cases, those hearing boards found that she had violated those rules and the Supreme Court affirmed those findings.”

Martin also contradicted Stump’s assertion that the Commission had not submitted an insurance claim for Price’s legal expenses. Martin told the Commission that it had submitted a claim, but that the former prosecutor’s professional misconduct was not covered by the policy.

“I investigated that; I went through the entire file that was maintained by the County Commission and you did make a claim with the insurance company,” he said. “Ms. Stump incorrectly states that the county policy provided professional liability coverage for Donna Price. Well, it does not. Professional liability coverage, what laymen know as malpractice insurance for professional liability, that is not part of the general liability policy that the county has.”

Martin further contradicted Stump’s claim that the Commission had agreed to pay the charges. The attorney cited case law, including the West Virginia Supreme Court case of Powers v. Goodwin, and advised the Commission that it was under no legal obligation to pay.

“In my opinion, I do not think [Price] gets through the Powers test and, as a result, I do not believe the county is obligated to pay any of this,” said Martin.

In 2012, the Commission approved for Price to pay legal expenses of $13,605 from the Prosecuting Attorney’s account. Martin told the Commission that the payment was improper and that it should seek repayment.

“As a matter of fact, I think the county is owed that $13,000 back, because it was an inappropriate expenditure for something the county shouldn’t have paid,” he said.

The Commission unanimously approved three resolutions with regard to the demanded payment. First, it resolved to not pay the legal expenses. Second, it resolved to demand repayment of $13,605.27 from Price. Third, it resolved to authorize Martin to notify Stump of the Commission’s action by letter.

The Commission also sought Martin’s advice on a proposal by Cass resident John Fitzgerald to lease land at the Green Bank Industrial Site for growing crops. A deed from the Pocahontas County Board of Education to the county includes a reversion clause which requires that the land be used for “economic development.”

Fitzgerald noted that it was he and partner J.P. Duncan who took the initiative to put the county-owned Hanover Building in Marlinton to productive use.

“That building was just laying there and going to ruin for I don’t know how many years,” he said. “We went in there and got it back on its feet and they wanted economic development. I think we did a pretty good job with that. Now it’s in use by the county and everybody else that wants to do something.

“That’s the way I feel about that property up there in Green Bank. That property’s just laying up there, not making you guys any money, not making the county any money. I think it would be economic development just for you to get rent off of it. If any industry comes in and you can make a better deal, I’d be more than happy to step aside, and you could even put that in the lease.”

The commissioners expressed general support for Fitzgerald’s plan.

“If we can get the restrictions lifted by the Board at this time, I think it would be a good thing to do,” said Commissioner David McLaughlin. “There’s three industrial parks in the county. Is anybody knocking on the doors? Edray’s set up there for years. We’ve got East Fork. There’s no industry looking to come into Pocahontas County.”

Martin recommended that the Commission approach the Board about modifying the deed. The Commission voted 3-0 to direct Martin to discuss the matter with the Board of Education.

In other business, the Commission:
– Approved a $3,509 contract with Keith Beverage for mowing at East Cass;
– Approved an $823.50 contract with Curtis Helton for brush hogging at the Hanover Building;
– Approved a $475 contract with Twynne Furr for mowing at the East Fork Industrial Park office building;
– Approved the transfer of a generator at Marlinton Middle School to the Board of Education;
– Approved a Sheriff’s Department expenditure of $27,865 for a new vehicle, and;
– Approved submission of a 911 Center grant application for $48,000 for mobile radios.

The next regular meeting of the Pocahontas County Commission is scheduled for April 21 at 5:30 p.m.

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