Ritchie Attorney, Judicial Candidate Accused of Misappropriating Funds, Deceit
The WV Record Reports:
A Ritchie County attorney, who is a candidate for circuit judge, will take a detour from the campaign trial to answer ethics charges that have been filed against him.
The Lawyer Disciplinary Board on April 27 filed a two-count statement of charges against Ira M. Haught. In the statement, the Board, the prosecutorial arm of the state Supreme Court, accuses Haught, 53, a sole practitioner in Harrisville of committing six violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct when he, in one case, converted money belonging to a client for his personal use, and attempted to deceive investigators who he was working for in another.
A statement of charges acts like an indictment for disciplinary purposes.
Conversion of Funds
The first count stems from a complaint filed by Gerald A. Heister. In his complaint filed May 27, 2010, Heister, board chairman for the National Rendezvous and Living History Foundation, alleged Haught received from funds illegally taken from the Foundation by a former employee, Linda Blizard, as payment for Haught’s fee to represent in a criminal action the Foundation filed against her.
In response to the complaint, Haught said the issues were resolved when a civil suit Blizard, and her husband, Richard, filed against NRLHF in 2008 was settled on September 10, 2009, with the Blizard’s agreeing to repay NRLHF $5,000. However, in subsequent correspondence with the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, the arm of the Court that investigates ethics complaints, Haught said while he received the disputed funds from the Blizards, none were used to pay his legal fees.
Heister disputed that by providing ODC a check made payable to Linda Blizard and Haught for $11,402.50. The check was cashed on June 30, 2008 Haught’s signatures being one on the back.
Though when he gave a sworn statement to ODC on December 07, 2010, he admitted the signature was his, Haught said he just endorsed it, and gave to the Blizards to cash. Also, he admitted that after the Blizard’s cashed the check, they gave it to him to keep in his office’s safe, and he returned it to them when the civil suit was dismissed.
Haught was asked to provide any receipts showing what the Blizards paid him. In a letter dated December 14, 2010, Haught said “he could not find any receipts for the year 2008 to show any amounts paid by Linda Blizard.“
According to the statement, a review of Haught’s client trust account showed a deposit was made on June 30, 2008 for $11,042.40. A month later the balance was $1,078.60 with “none of the checks paid out from that account in July of 2008 were made payable to Linda Blizard, Richard Blizard or to the NRLHF.“
Later, on September 11, 2009, Haught wrote a check for $7,062.50 to Richard Blizard from the account.
Because he converted funds for his personal use, and lied about it, the Board found Haught violated Rules dealing with safekeeping of property, misconduct, specifically “engage[ing] in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation,“ and Bar admission and disciplinary matters by “knowingly make a false statement of material fact.“
Who’s My Client?
The second count stems from a complaint filed by Jack and Wanda Wright on July 06, 2010. According to their complaint, the Wrights attempted unsuccessfully for four years to correct a deed to property they purchased in Doddridge County to include oil, gas and mineral rights Haught left out when preparing it.
According to the statement, the previous owner, L.L. Tonkin, contacted Haught in April 2005 about selling the property to David Thompson. However, because Thompson did not provide the money to complete the transfer, the deal fell through.
Later, in July 2006, Tonkin called Haught about selling the property to the Wrights. In a letter dated July 28, Haught said the cost to purchase the property would be $14,282.60.
After he received a check for the amount on August 01, Haught deposited the funds. About two weeks later, he recorded the deed, and closed his file.
In his response to the Wright’s complaint, Haught said his involvement in the case began when he was contacted by a pre-paid legal service used by Thompson, who later paid him $600. Also, Haught said he considered Tonkin, not the Wrights, to be his client, and because Tonkin didn’t sign the corrective deed, then the oil, gas and mineral rights were not to be included.
At ODC’s request, Haught provided a copy of the file he kept. Entries in it show Haught had correspondence with Thompson, Tonkin and the Wright about the property. In a letter sent to ODC on February 16, Haught said he “did not have any written representation contracts for L.L. Tonkin, David Thompson or Jack and Wanda Wright.“
Because he lied to ODC to avoid detection as to who was his client, the Board also found Haught violated the Rules dealing with misconduct and Bar admission and disciplinary matters.
An evidentiary hearing on the statement of charges before the Board’s hearing panel subcommittee is scheduled for August 31 at the W. Kent Carper Justice and Public Safety Complex in Charleston.
Haught is the Republican nominee for judge in the Third Judicial Circuit which includes Ritchie, Doddridge and Pleasants counties. He is seeking to fill the unexpired term of Judge Robert Holland who died in September 2010.
The following December, Governor Earl Ray Tomblin appointed Pleasants County Prosecutor Tim Sweeney, 55, to fill the vacancy. Sweeney is Haught’s Democratic opponent in November’s general election.
West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals case number 12-0528
~~ Lawrence Smith - WV Record ~~
Federal Officials say WV Corruption Hotline Is Generating Cases
Federal prosecutors in northern West Virginia have at least eight active public corruption cases under investigation and may be announcing prosecutions soon.
U.S. Attorney William Ihlenfeld’s office launched a Public Corruption Hotline in April and has gotten about 200 tips.
Ihlenfeld calls the response overwhelming.
He says most have involved corruption by public or appointed officials.
He says announcements about some of those cases could come in October in November, while others may not be prosecuted until next year.
The team is supported by West Virginia State Police, the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service, as well as the Secretary of State’s Office, the West Virginia Ethics Commission and the state Commission on Special Investigations.
The hotline number is 1.855.WVA.FEDS.
Tips can also be emailed to “
G-otcha™: Shock Resident Indicted by Federal Grand Jury on Methamphetamine Charges
A 37 year old Shock, West Virginia, resident was named in two-count Indictment returned on Tuesday, August 21, 2012, by a Federal Grand Jury sitting in Elkins, West Virginia.
United States Attorney William J. Ihlenfeld, II, announced that:
DANIEL RAY KING is charged in Count One with Manufacturing Methamphetamine and in Count Two with Possession of Material Used in the Manufacture of Methamphetamine.
Both offenses are alleged to have occurred on February 01, 2012, in Gilmer County, West Virginia.
If convicted, KING faces up to 20 years imprisonment and a $1,000,000 fine on the manufacturing charge and up to 20 years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine on the possession of materials charge.
The case will be prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Stephen D. Warner and investigated by the West Virginia State Police.
WV Consumers Can File Claims for LCD Screens as Part of Price-Fixing Settlement
WV Attorney General Darrell McGraw says West Virginia consumers can now file refund claims in a price-fixing settlement against companies that made liquid crystal display screens used in televisions and computer monitors.
Consumers have until December 06, 2012 to file claims for LCD screens bought between 1999 and 2006.
Claims can be made online at www.lcdclass.com or forms can be requested by calling 304.225.1886.
McGraw said Monday says consumers will likely receive at least $25, although the actual payment will be calculated based on the number of claims and type of products purchased.
The $1.1 billion settlement involved 10 manufacturers of LCD panels. Partial refunds are being offered to consumers in 24 states.
Jury Duty Scam: Some State Residents Receiving Calls Seeking Credit Card Information
West Virginia Supreme Court Administrator Steve Canterbury says he’s learned of a scam involving jury duty.
Canterbury says some state residents are receiving recorded phone calls saying they missed jury duty and they can pay their fines by credit card.
Canterbury says none of the county court systems in West Virginia use phone calls to alert residents when they miss jury duty.
“We don’t do that—it’s more personal,“ Canterbury said. “The fact is that if one misses jury duty likely they will have a deputy visit them with a summons for them to appear to show cause.“
Canterbury says the phone calls were first reported in Webster County.
He says the state Attorney General’s Office has been notified.
He says the best thing to do if you get that call is to hang up.
U.S. Court: Fish and Wildlife OK to Ignore Own Rules in De-listing WV Northern Flying Squirrel
A federal appeals court has struck down a lower court ruling that had sided with environmental groups hoping to restore protected status to the West Virginia northern flying squirrel.
The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia on Friday ruled in favor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Five environmental groups had sued in 2009 after the federal agency took the squirrel off the endangered species list.
Last year, U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan said the agency wrongly ignored its own rules and effectively changed the recovery plan for the species without the required public-input process.
The appeals court disagreed in a 2-1 vote, saying that “a plan is a statement of intention, not a contract.“
Gilmer County Circuit Court Report – 08.09.12
At 9:00 AM on Tuesday, August 07, 2012 Judge Facemire heard a fugitive from justice hearing.
Jabbar Womble was wanted in Pennsylvania and waived extradition back to PA.
Authorities there have until 4:00 PM Thursday, August 16, 2012 to pick him up or Central Regional Jail will release him.
He was represented by Steve Nanners from Buckhannon.
Nanners also represented Jimmie Stewart who appeared before the Court for pretrial motions.
Further motions in his case will be heard on Monday, August 20, 2012 at 1:30 PM in Braxton County.
His trial is still set for Tuesday, August 28, 2012 and Judge Facemire took the motion to continue under advisement.
Also on Tuesday, August 07, 2012 Chief Judge Jack Alsop appeared at 11:00 AM for a civil pretrial in the case of Stonewall Jackson Memorial Hospital vs. Crystal Marks Miller.
After hearing arguments from plaintiff and defendant, Judge Alsop entered judgment in the case and cancelled the bench trial set for Tuesday, August 14, 2012.
Crystal represented herself pro se and Christopher McCarthy represented Stonewall Jackson Memorial Hospital.
JudgeAlsop returned to Gilmer County at 9:00 AM Thursday, August 09, 2012 for a juvenile hearing, 10:15 AM for a probation revocation hearing in State of West Virginia vs. Jerry Blackwell.
Blackwell was represented by David Karickhoff of Sutton.
Another juvenile matter was set for 11:00 AM.
On Monday, August 13, 2012 will be Judge Alsop’s regular monthly motion day and he has a full half day of hearings scheduled.
Finally Putnam Judge Facing Charges
Formal charges have been brought against a Putnam County Judge.
Putnam County Family Court Judge William Watkins III is facing two counts for allegedly violating the Judicial Code of Conduct and trial court rules. The State Supreme Court of Appeals served Watkins with the charges Friday.
The charges come several weeks after Watkins was caught on tape verbally attacking people in his courtroom. According to court records, nine complaints were filed against Watkins regarding his courtroom display. No charges were filed from the incident until now.
On the first count, the high court says Judge Watkins violated several canons of the Judicial Code of Conduct.
In one case, investigators say Watkins failed to make a ruling on a divorce case even after three prior Circuit Court Orders and one Supreme Court Order had been issued. He finally did after being threatened of being held in contempt.
On the second count, the high court claims Watkins failed to regularly update the Domestic Violence Protective Order Registry.
According to West Virginia Code, a family court judge is required to immediately enter all domestic violence related orders on the West Virginia domestic violence database.
According to investigators, Watkins failed to enter the orders in at least two cases to the database. In fact, it was days, weeks or months before his office finally entered the final protective orders to the database.
Prior complaints have come from Watkins saying his office doesn’t have time to enter the orders into the database. The court offered additional training to try to help, but according to the investigation, Watkins and his staff still didn’t follow procedure.
The charges that were filed were originally issued July 31, 2012, but the high court could not serve them until now because Watkins was on vacation.
A fax indicated that he was on vacation from July 20, 2012 until August 06, 2012.
G-otcha™: Rosedale Resident Sentenced on Marijuana Charge
A 44 year old Rosedale, West Virginia, was sentenced on August 08, 2012, in United States District Court in Clarksburg by Judge Irene M. Keeley.
LARRY DONALD SANDY was sentenced to 12 months and 1 day imprisonment to be followed by four years of supervised release.
SANDY entered a plea of guilty on January 20, 2012, to one count of “Manufacturing More than 50 Kilograms of Marijuana on October 11, 2010, in Rosedale.
SANDY, who is free on bond, will self-report to the designated Federal institution on September 10, 2012.
The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Shawn A. Morgan and investigated by the West Virginia State Police-Bureau of Criminal Investigations.
G-LtE™: Challenges in Public Education
As the new President of the board of Education in a State intervened county school system, I wish to share some thoughts on the state of our public schools and on some of the challenges we face now and in the years ahead.
The dynamics of any school system are extremely complex with many constituencies involved and many policy and legal constraints. You have probably noted in recent news releases that West Virginia has one of the most regulated and constrained public school systems in the country. With all the complexities in place plus the need to reach the students with the best educational experience we can provide, under the best circumstances we remain challenged to fulfill the needs of our public schools.
Hopefully, most of Gilmer County’s major issues will be identified and resolved in the near future. In the State’s Audit Report which triggered state intervention there were several citations which the state-appointed Superintendent is in the process of addressing. Additionally, the State Board of Education is looking to approve an Exit Management Plan for all intervened counties which will help clarify tasks which need to be completed for both the state and the counties involved. Perhaps Gilmer County will have part of its governance restored in the near future and we can get on with the business of administering our schools.
As a new President, I am committed to the need to move forward to provide a quality educational experience for the -students in the county. To do this, a vision for the future of our schools needs to be formulated, agreed upon, and understood by school officials and the general public. Better communication is an essential element in this important process. Superintendent Blankenship and I agree that we should hold town hall Board meetings in different locations in the county to let the public hear from the Board and the Board hear from the public. Quite often the information that circulates is the result of rumor, speculation and erroneous assumptions. It is not always possible to keep everyone accurately informed, but this Board will strive to have transparency with the public on school matters.
Our most immediate challenges involve getting governance of our schools back to the County Board of Education. We will work with the State Department of Education and the State Board of Education to accomplish this as expeditiously as possible. Also, we have a time line until November 01, 2012 to select the most suitable site for a new elementary school which will house approximately 400 students. While not a certainty, we will work with the School Building Authority to see if a health clinic could be a part of this project. The other facilities related issue is the inter-county school to be built at a Linn site. It is obvious that new governance procedures need to be placed in West Virginia code to make a fair and equal partnership of inter-county and multi-county schools. Before the new school opens at Linn, officials of Lewis and Gilmer County will need to agree on a new set of provisions.
As I am sure you are aware, public school systems across the country are facing financial challenges. In California systems are closing schools, consolidating schools and cutting up to twenty days off the school year. While the situation is not as grave in West Virginia, we are not exempt from the need to develop strategies to live within our budgets. Because of the loss of population in several rural counties in West Virginia there are school closures, school consolidations and reductions in staff under consideration. For example, the Harrison County Board while located in a fairly strong and healthy appearing economy is dealing with some of these difficult decisions.
Rural counties in our state have some of the most difficult challenges in dealing with lost student population. Here in Gilmer County we have lost significant student population over the last ten or so years. The geography of the county, however, remains the same. With the diminished numbers and shrinking funds, hard decisions are brought to those who have to manage this kind of situation. The Legislature has given counties like Gilmer a floor in student funding to allow time for the counties to develop management strategies to operate within the average funding levels for public schools throughout the state. While Gilmer County has approximately 931 students, we receive funding for 1400. With the financial challenges the state is facing they cannot continue this type of subsidy and therefore have notified counties that there will be a phase-out of these extra dollars over the next three or four years.
What does this mean for Gilmer County? It means that a plan has to be implemented to manage our schools with the funding generated by actual student enrollment in the near future. Not all schools can remain and streamlining must occur all around.
It will be imperative that the Board of Education, the Superintendent and the State Board of Education be totally transparent and forthright with parents, taxpayers and the general public as we all work through this necessary transition.
As counties face financial problems, there is also the need to be mindful of the need to improve qualifications of teaching and administrative personnel and raise our academic expectations for students as well.
Like growing a garden or creating a new structure the transition will not happen overnight. Gilmer County will get our facilities issues in order, our County back from the State and create a plan for the future and ultimately emerge with an improved educational program for our students. I encourage your support and participation as we move forward.
William K. Simmons
G-otcha™: Sutton Man Sentenced for Federal Supervised Release and Probation Violations
JEREMY DEAL, age 33, of Sutton, West Virginia, was sentenced on July 03, 2012, to 6 months imprisonment for possession and use of a controlled substance; failure to follow instructions of probation officer; and, associating with individuals engaged in criminal activity.
DEAL was originally sentenced on August 18, 2010, to 14 months imprisonment and two years of supervised release for providing a False Declaration Before a Grand Jury.
DEAL was remanded to the custody of the United States Marshal pending designation to a Federal institution.
G-otcha™: Three FCI-Gilmer Federal Inmates Enter Pleas and are Sentenced in Federal Court
Three FCI Gilmer inmates entered pleas of guilty and were sentenced on July 31, 2012, in United States District Court in Clarksburg before Judge Irene M. Keeley.
• CESAR LEDESMA-CARRILLO, age 34, entered a plea of guilty to Assault of an Inmate with Dangerous Weapons with Intent to do Bodily Harm on February 08, 2011, when LEDESMA-CARRILLO beat his cellmate with combination locks inflicting several lacerations to the victim’s head.
LEDESMA-CARRILLO was sentenced to 24 months imprisonment to be served consecutively with is current 75-month sentence.
• OREANDA HALL, age 38, entered a plea of guilty to Possession of Marijuana on December 17, 2011, at FCI Gilmer.
HUNT was sentenced to 4 months imprisonment to be served consecutively with his current 360-month sentence.
• ADAM ORTIZ, age 35, entered a plea of guilty to Possession of Marijuana on November 12, 2011, at FCI Gilmer.
ORTIZ was sentenced to 4 months imprisonment to be served consecutively with his current 96-month sentence.
These cases were prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Brandon S. Flower and investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Special Investigative Services at FCI Gilmer.
WV Election Officials Defend PAC Contribution Cap
West Virginia’s elections chief is urging a federal judge against striking down one of the state’s campaign contribution limits.
Secretary of State Natalie Tennant is defending the $1,000 cap on contributions to independent-expenditure political action committees.
Stay the Course West Virginia is such a PAC. It has sued to overturn that cap as unconstitutional.
Until that lawsuit is resolved, Stay the Course wants U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Johnston to block the cap.
Johnston has set an August 01, 2012 hearing for this preliminary injunction request.
But Tennant’s response filing says the cap serves the public interest by limiting the perceived influence of campaign cash.
Tennant also cites the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that required the recusal of state Justice Brent Benjamin because of an independent group’s campaign spending.
WV Justice Benjamin Explains Dissent on Redistricting
A West Virginia Supreme Court justice is explaining why he dissented when the court upheld legislative redistricting.
A 4-1 ruling in in November rejected multiple challenges to the redrawing of state Senate and House of Delegates districts.
The majority later explained that ruling in a February opinion.
Justice Brent Benjamin issued his dissent Friday.
It says he did not disagree with the majority regarding the new Senate districts.
But his dissent slams the new House districts as constitutionally unacceptable.
The new map increases the number of single-member districts.
But it also includes districts with between two and five members.
Benjamin called that result a strange mix that dilutes the voting power of citizens.
The 2010 Census prompted the redistricting.
Still pending is a federal lawsuit challenging the redrawn congressional districts.
Ripley Woman Denies Abuse Charges against Husband
Shown numerous photos of her wounds in court, a West Virginia woman whose husband is accused of torturing and abusing her for years denied the allegations Friday, offering different explanations for each injury.
Stephanie Lizon’s testimony conflicted with what she previously told a domestic violence worker, but a magistrate refused a defense motion to dismiss a malicious wounding charge against her husband, Peter Lizon. The judge found probable cause to send the case to circuit court.
When Stephanie Lizon looked at photos of wounds on her back and breast taken by a domestic violence shelter manager, she testified they came from the same frying pan.
“It was an accident,“ Stephanie Lizon said. “My husband and I were arguing over breakfast. We often get very passionate in our arguments. I often am without a shirt in my own home because I think it’s my right. We collided with each other.“
Similar answers came with other injuries — her husband either wasn’t involved or didn’t intentionally inflict them.
A bruise on her side? “That was when my goat gored me,“ she said.
A knee bruise? “I skinned my knee. I tripped.“
A photo of her swollen left foot?
“It was caused by an accident that we had with the tractor and the front-end loader attachment,“ Stephanie Lizon said. “My husband was trying to lower the attachment and he didn’t realize that I was so close. He dropped the loader on my feet.“
A domestic violence shelter manager said Stephanie Lizon told her the back burns occurred because the wife didn’t prepare a meal correctly and got hit intentionally with a hot pan. The manager also said after Peter Lizon allegedly dropped the hay bailer on her feet, and over time, he stepped on her feet to reinjure them.
Prosecutor Katie Casto said the bruises were obvious.
“It is plain to a reasonable person that this was intentional,“ Casto said. “It’s not an accident.“
Peter Lizon, who is being held in jail on bond, sat next to his attorneys at the preliminary hearing in Jackson County Magistrate Court.
“What we have established is that this is a mess,“ said his attorney, Shawn Bayliss.
Stephanie Lizon testified she fled June 18 after an argument with her husband at a heavy equipment rental store about 50 miles north of their home in Leroy near the Ohio border. She said she did not want to argue in front of the couple’s 13-month-old child and went to the domestic violence shelter for two days.
She told another woman at the shelter of the abuse, a criminal complaint said.
An employee of the Bosley Rental & Supply store previously told The Associated Press Stephanie Lizon entered told the staff she was trying to hide from her husband when she entered a different part of the store.
The employee declined to give her name, citing concern for her safety and that of her co-workers at the rental shop.
Stephanie Lizon said then she didn’t want to involve police but accepted the number for the shelter and called it, the store employee said. She also called family to ask for money, and the employees gave her cash and called her a cab.
She was limping and had appeared to have some sort of injury, the store employee said.
The shelter manager testified Stephanie Lizon showed up at the shelter under an assumed name and was afraid of her husband. A bus ticket was arranged for the wife to travel to her parents’ home in Alexandria, Va., but she never got on the bus because her young son was with her husband and she wanted to go get him.
Investigators said they had 45 photographs showing burns on the wife’s back and breasts from irons and frying pans, and scars on her wrists and ankles. When she was shown a picture of her foot injury, she said farming was dangerous.
She sought medical treatment on June 20, but when asked why she didn’t previously, “I didn’t think it warranted it,“ she testified.
The couple has raised goats and chickens on their property since 2005.
West Virginia University law professor Marjorie McDiarmid, who specializes in domestic violence and family law, said successful prosecution of such cases depends on evidence that supports the allegations.
Despite her denial of abuse, it’s common for prosecutors to have to build a case based on third-party evidence, McDiarmid said.
“It is a very fraught period in anyone’s life when they are making these kind of allegations,“ she said. “If in fact she is the victim of violence, there’s a lot of danger and a lot of fear and a lot of mixed emotions that go into being in that kind of situation.“
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