Court News

Court News

Recent Court Ruling on Flood Plains Has Counties Scrambling

The Gilmer Free Press

A recent Circuit Court ruling involving an oil and gas company and affected landowners over a floodplain drilling permit has some counties reviewing their ordinances.

Judge Tim Sweeney ruled that parts of Doddridge County’s floodplain ordinance were unconstitutional and county officials have since adopted a new plan.

Terri Jo Bennett, building permit and floodplain coordinator for Upshur County, said they, like Doddridge County, use the state model.

“Ours is going to have to be revisited and revised to meet new requirements we weren’t aware of at that time, just like Doddridge County’s was,” Bennett said.

Report: WV Supreme Court Filings Reach Lowest Levels in More than 25 Years

The Gilmer Free Press

The number of filings in the state Supreme Court has reached its lowest level in more than 25 years.

A report presented to a legislative committee on Monday says there were about 1,500 cases filed in 2012.

That is down from an all-time high of nearly 4,000 cases in 2007.

The court’s clerk told lawmakers that legislative reforms and privatization of the state’s workers compensation system led to the caseload decrease.

The 446 workers’ compensation appeals filed last year comprised 29% of the court’s caseload, which is the lowest percentage since 1986.

Rory Perry told lawmakers the court is able to keep pace with the number of incoming cases.

Some lawmakers have suggested creating an intermediary appeals court.

WV Supreme Court Mandates e-Filing to Reduce Court Errors

The Gilmer Free Press

The state Supreme Court said Thursday it is creating a centralized e-filing system for West Virginia’s 55 circuit clerks as it tries to fix widespread problems with record-keeping that caused the mistaken release of an inmate earlier this year.

An eight-page order issued by Chief Justice Brent Benjamin said that neither Kanawha County Circuit Judge Carrie Webster nor Circuit Clerk Cathy Gatson violated any ethical rules. But the accidental release of an inmate in March highlighted widespread flaws in a nonsensical filing system that lawyers call an “error magnet” and that Benjamin said is not limited to the state’s largest county.

“Simply warning any judge or staff members to be careful is clearly not adequate to fix future problems if the systems themselves are so abstruse, so non-transparent and so needlessly complicated that they almost generate a certain level of mistakes,“ the order says. “The court wishes to remedy that bigger problem.“

Benjamin said Software Systems of Morgantown will run the new system, starting with 14 pilot counties that will be online within the next year. That company will partner with On-Line Information Services of Mobile, Ala., and work with the courts and the State Bar to train lawyers before e-filing becomes mandatory.

Currently, four vendors serve the 55 counties with different systems, but Benjamin said all will eventually use a universal operating system. The state will fund installation, maintenance and operation, he said, and the court will appoint a committee to create and improve the system.

In March, kidnapping suspect Jeremy Carter was released from the South Central Regional Jail on an order that Webster said she didn’t mean to issue. Rather, she was trying to dismiss a related but separate motion for a psychiatric evaluation.

Benjamin’s report says that investigators found the clerk’s office changed case numbers in keeping with local practice “that is not supported or authorized by statute, court rule or even a provision of the Circuit Court Clerk’s Manual.“

When Webster learned of the erroneous release, she promptly ordered the suspect re-arrested.

But the report says it was part of a larger pattern of problems: Between February 28 and March 08, Webster wrote 28 orders, some of which were issued to correct mistakes in previous orders.

Interviews with circuit clerk staff make it “abundantly clear” the judge didn’t understand the case-numbering system, and after speaking to Gatson, Benjamin wrote, “the authors of this report cannot help but be sympathetic to Judge Webster since the system is abstruse and its numbering of cases ... counterintuitive.“

Supreme Court Administrator Steve Canterbury determined Webster’s actions don’t merit a complaint to the office of disciplinary counsel.

“Indeed, her goal in issuing the cluster of orders was laudable: She wanted to update her docket, clearing it of extraneous matters,“ the report says.

“It is somewhat understandable why Judge Webster did not comprehend the synecdochic nature of the numbering system _ where any single number that is part of the list of numbers contained in a single case implies the whole case,“ it says. “It is not a written policy.“

First to participate will be Berkeley, Braxton, Cabell, Hampshire, Harrison, Jefferson, Lewis, Lincoln, Marion, Morgan, Ohio, Randolph, Upshur and Wood counties.

Gilmer County Family Court Report - 08.07.13

The Gilmer Free Press

Family Court Judge Larry S. Whited heard cases in Glenville on Wednesday, August 07, 2013.

•  He heard 2 contempt petitions for the Child Advocate Bureau.

•  He entered a temporary support Order in one case.

•  He dismissed an allocation.

•  He entered an order for genetic testing in one case.

•  He continued a final divorce hearing until 1:00 PM on Wednesday, September 04, 2013.

•  He entered a temporary order in a modification proceeding.

•  He dismissed another modification hearing.

Gilmer County Circuit Court Report – 08.09.13

The Gilmer Free Press

Chief Judge Richard A. Facemire spent Thursday morning, August 08, 2013 in Glenville and heard several cases.

Two fugitives from justice waived extradition back to their respective states.

Jeffery Lochard waived to return to North Carolina and Melvin Turner waived to return to the state of Ohio.

Both men were represented by Christina Flanigan and authorities in their states have until 4:00 PM, Wednesday, August I4, 2013 to pick them up at Central Regional Jail or they will be released.

Several juvenile matters were heard and reset:

•  One for Monday, August 26, 2013 at 10:00 AM

•  One for Monday, September 23, 2013 at 10:45 AM

•  One for Monday, October 28, 2013 at 10:00 AM

•  One for Monday, September 23, 2013 at 10:20 AM

•  The revocation of probation petition against Amanda Smith was dismissed and she was released from Central Regional Jail and readmitted to probation due to the prosecutor not having a witness subpoenaed to testify in the matter.

Smith was represented by Garth Beck of Clarksburg.

•  State of West Virginia vs. Kimberly Murdaugh

She was before the Court for bond to be set, and although the prosecuting attorney resisted bond being set, Judge Facemire set bond at $25,000.00 good and sufficient surety to be approved by the Circuit Clerk and allowed her to post bond and be released on home confinement.

She is represented by her hired attorney David Karickhoff.

•  Judge Facemire relieved Andrew Chattin from his appointment for the revocation hearing to be heard on Monday, August 26, 2013 at 9:00 AM.

On Friday, August 09, 2013 Judge Jack Alsop heard cases in Gilmer County.

Seven juvenile cases were heard:

•  Three were scheduled for further hearing Tuesday, November 12, 2013 at 9:00 AM, 9:10 AM and 9:20 AM respectively

•  One set for Tuesday, August 27, 2013

•  One was not reset

•  One for Wednesday, August 28, 2013 at 10:00 AM

•  One was dismissed

•  The motion to revoke bond on Ricky Townsend was withdrawn by the prosecutor.

•  The civil case of Stonewall Jackson Memorial Hospital vs. Crystal Hixson had an agreed order entered in it, thus completing the case.

•  State of West Virginia vs. Gary Ferrell is set for second trial Wednesday, October 02, 2013.

He is represented by Daniel Grindo of Gassaway.

•  State of West Virginia vs. Rodney Singleton

He appeared by video conference from Martinsburg Correctional Center for further arraignment.

Although Novobilski appeared, he stated he was not Singleton’s attorney because of the distance to meet with him.

Judge Alsop instructed the Clerk to mail a financial affidavit to request an appointed attorney to Singleton and reset his case for further arraignment on Monday, September 09, 2013 at 10:30 AM.

Feds Charge Clay County Sheriff with Illegal Wiretapping

The Gilmer Free Press

A West Virginia sheriff who allegedly hacked his wife’s work computer in the Clay County magistrate court office has been charged with illegal wiretapping.

Federal prosecutors charged Clay County Sheriff Miles J. “Mike” Slack in U.S. District Court in Charleston on Monday.

The felony charge is in the form of an information, a document that typically signals the defendant is cooperating with prosecutors.

U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin says Slack secretly installed a keystroke logger on a government-owned computer in April, when he and his wife were still married.

Goodwin did not immediately comment on the motive, but the couple has since divorced.

Slack did not immediately return a message left at his office.

He was a deputy sheriff for 16 years, ran unopposed for election last fall and assumed office in January.

Gilmer County Circuit Court Report – 07.25.13

The Gilmer Free Press

On Thursday, July 25, 2013 Judge Alsop heard several matters in Gilmer County.

Two fugitives from justice cases were heard and both individuals waived extradition back to their respective slates.

•  Jose Flores waived to return to Ohio.

•  Kenneth Richards Jr. waived to return to New Jersey.

Both were represented by Christina Flanigan and authorities in their states had until 4:00 PM, Friday, August 02, 2013 to pick them up at Central Regional Jail or they will be released from custody.

•  Brand Rose appeared with his attorney.

•  Bryan Hinkle was arraigned by Judge Alsop.

His pre-trial will be Friday, October 18, 2013 at 1:00 PM and his trial will be Thursday, October 31, 2013 at 9:00 AM.

•  Three juvenile matters were heard and set for further hearing on Friday, August 09, 2013 at 11:30 AM and Tuesday, August 27, 2013 at 1:00 PM, in one case; Tuesday, October 15, 2013 at 10:45 AM, in the second; and the third will be heard Tuesday, August 27, 2013 at 2:00 PM.

•  A magistrate court civil appeal was partially heard and continued to Thursday, October 03, 2013 at 11:45 AM for final hearing.

Gilmer County Family Court Report - 07.30.13

The Gilmer Free Press

•  One divorce was granted on Tuesday, July 30, 2013 with Travis Beacher (36) of Glenville, WV divorcing Penni Beachler (30) of Sugar Grove, WV.

OddlyEnough™: Jackson County Man in Torture Case Can Be There for Birth

The Gilmer Free Press

A West Virginia man accused of torturing his wife for years will be allowed to be there for the birth of their child.

Jackson County Judge Thomas Evans ruled Friday that Peter Lizon could have contact with his wife, Stephanie, who is due to give birth to their child this month.

Lizon is on home confinement. He faces three counts each of malicious wounding and domestic battery.

Stephanie Lizon is not cooperating with prosecutors in the case.

Evans ruled that Stephanie Lizon can go to her husband’s home, where she plans to give birth, and remain there for five days.

The couple’s first child also was delivered at home.

Peter Lizon’s attorneys filed motions Thursday asking that the charges be dismissed.

The judge will hear those arguments on August 19, 2013.

G-otcha™: FCI-Gilmer Correctional Officer Pleads Guilty to Taking Bribe for Smuggling Tobacco

The Gilmer Free Press

A correctional officer has pleaded guilty to taking about $40,000 in exchange for smuggling tobacco into Federal Correctional Institution Gilmer in Glenville, WV.

Jason Noel Squires, age 27, pleaded guilty on Tuesday to conspiracy to bribe public officials, and aiding and abetting bribery of a public official. Both felonies.

While working as a correctional officer at FCI-Gilmer between January 01 and August 14, 2012, Squires smuggled tobacco into the prison on multiple occasions.

He would sell the tobacco to inmates.

The inmates would pay Squires for the drugs by way of contacts outside the prison who would send money to Watkins via Western Union and Postal money grams.

Watkins was aware of Squires providing drugs to the inmates.

Squires’ girlfriend, Nikole Monique Watkins, age 24, also pleaded to the same charges.

U.S. District Judge Irene Keeley will sentence the couple at a later date.

Both are free on bond under the supervision of the probation office in Palm Bay, Florida, where they live.

Squires and Watkins face up to 20 years imprisonment and a $500,000 fine.

Both are free on bond pending sentencing.

WVPSC Speeds Up investigating FirstEnergy’s Double Billing, Meter Reading

The Gilmer Free Press

FirstEnergy wanted the State Public Service Commission to dismiss an investigation into the billing practices of its subsidiaries MonPower and PotomacEdison.

But instead the WVPSC has asked for more information into the controversy and has promised to schedule some public hearings.

The PSC ordered a general investigation into the situation in June after the commission received a number of complaints from MonPower and PotomacEdison customers about meter reading and double billing.

Parent company FirstEnergy asked the PSC to dismiss the case. The commission denied the request in last week’s order.

The PSC now wants from FirstEnergy “the number and the percentage of customers who have received two or more consecutive estimated bills; current employment levels of meter readers; the number and types of complaints received by FirstEnergy; the number and percentage of customer complaints resolved on the first call to FirstEnergy and the number of customers placed on deferred payment plans.”

The PSC has ordered the information be submitted every month for the next year. It also said it will hold public hearings in the service areas later this year.

FirstEnergy said in June a series of unexpected circumstances caused a number of customers to go without actual meter readings for several months.

“You don’t want to have too many consecutive estimates because then when you have true-up meter readings it can be difficult,” company spokesman Todd Meyers said.

The PSC said last Friday that its staff would continue to pursue complaints from customers.

The PSC’s Consumer Affair Technicians can be reached at 1.800.642.8544.

Gilmer County Circuit Court Report – 07.19.13

The Gilmer Free Press

Judge Jack Alsop held Court in Gilmer County on Wednesday, July 17, 2013.

•  Two arraignments were scheduled with neither defendant appearing at their 9:00 AM hearing time.

However, later in the morning (9:25 AM) Lucas Buckhannon and his attorney, Jonathan Fittro, appeared and his pretrial is now set for
Friday, September 27, 2013 at 11:00 AM, and his trial is set for Friday, October 18, 2013.

•  Brandon Rose failed to appear but rather than a bench warrant, Judge Alsop directed the Clerk to summons him to appear at 9:00 AM on Thursday, July 25, 2013 since he had already appeared twice without an attorney present to represent him.

•  Judge Alsop then dealt with 2 jurors who failed to appear for the first day of petit jury, namely: Wendy Wilson and Scott McCullough.

Both jurors explained to the Court why they failed to appear and the Judge did not find them in contempt, but instructed them to follow the instructions in the letter given to them by the Circuit Clerk in the future.

He also heard a juvenile matter and set it for further review Monday, September 09, 2013 at 8:45 AM.

On Friday, July 19, 2013, Chief Judge Richard A. Facemire presided over his rescheduled July motion day.

•  He heard 3 Fugitive From Justice cases with all being represented by Christina Flanigan of Buckhannon and waiving extradition back to their respective states as follows:

Bernard West to Maryland, Myron Miller to Ohio and Tyrone Ward to Michigan.

Authorities from those states have until 4:00 PM, Friday, July 26, 2013 to pick them up at Central Regional Jail or they will be released.

•  One juvenile was heard and reset for Monday, August 26, 2013 at 9:00 AM, one for Monday, September 23, 2013 at 9:10 AM, another for same day at 10:20 AM and a third for 10:30 AM.

•  Jackie Belknap II was before the Court for probation revocation and he admitted the allegations filed against him in the petition.

Belknap was represented by Flanigan and was sentenced to 1-3 years in the penitentiary and $1,000.00 fine and court costs.

•  Randall Lambey was before the Court for sentencing but due to his pre-sentence investigation not being completed his sentencing was reset for Monday, August 26, 2013 at 10:15 AM.

•  John Carder‘s sentencing was also reset for Monday, September 23, 2013 at 10:00 AM.

•  One petition for amended birth certificate was issued to Phyllis McHenry.

•  The civil case of Educap INC. vs. Gary Jenkins and Charley Gregory was before the Court for hearing and was referred to a mediator for mediation to be completed by Thursday, October 17, 2013 and bench trial is set for Tuesday, November 05, 2013 at 10:00 AM.

Gilmer County Family Court Report - 07.17.13

The Gilmer Free Press

Family Court Judge Larry Whited held Court on Wednesday, July 17, 2013.

•  He dismissed one divorce and granted a domestic violence petition.

Grand Jury Indicts West Virginia Doctor on Drug Charge

The Gilmer Free Press

A north-central West Virginia doctor accused of overprescribing painkillers to patients has been indicted on a federal drug charge.

A federal grand jury in Martinsburg charged Dr. Edita Milan of Fairmont on Wednesday with one count of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances.

The indictment charges that Milan prescribed the drugs without any legitimate medical reason.

Milan was arrested earlier this month. She voluntarily surrendered her Drug Enforcement Administration registration number. That means she can no longer prescribe controlled substances.

U.S. Attorney William J. Ihlenfeld II has said that Milan was treating more than twice as many patients as she was permitted to treat with narcotics at her practice in Bridgeport.

Milan’s office was closed and there was no telephone listing for her in the Fairmont area.

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