3-judge panel to rule on Hardy commissioners' ouster - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

3-judge panel to rule on Hardy commissioners' ouster

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For The State Journal

A dispute between citizens of Hardy County and two county commissioners has been ongoing in the legal system for the last five months.

Residents are challenging an ambulance fee ordinance and the purchase of a building — both alleged decisions made by the commissioners without public input.

The ordinance fee currently being collected is $120 a year per resident and the building purchased was $1.13 million, which was designated to be used for ambulance and rescue squads.

The November 2013 petition, signed by 700 residents, asks that J. Michael Teets, president of the Hardy County Commission and Commissioner William E. Keplinger Jr. be ousted from the commission.

A third commissioner, A.J. Wade, was not targeted by the petition. Wade voted no on both issues.

As a result of the petition the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals appointed a three-judge panel to hear the case.

Fred L. Fox II, senior status judge from Marion County; Thomas W. Steptoe Jr., senior status judge from Jefferson County; and Robert B. Stone from Morgan County, heard the case.

The petitioner's attorney is David Judy.

Hardy County commissioners hired attorney Bridget Cohee, with Steptoe and Johnson out of Martinsburg.

Judy presented 17 witnesses and more than 100 exhibits during the hearing.

After summation, the judges took a 10-minute recess, returning to tell the attorney's to prepare an order which should include the laws pertaining to the case.

In addition, each attorney was to prepare a summary as to why the judges should rule in their favor.

Fox said the petition included not only the ousting of the commissioners, but it also included the dispute regarding ambulance fees and the county's purchase of the building.

Therefore, Fox separated those two issues from the petition leaving only the dismissal of the commissioners to be heard by the panel.

The issue of the ordinance and the building will be heard as a separate case.

In an administrative order dated March 31, 2014, Chief Justice Robin Jean Davis called for a fourth judge to hear the second part of the case against two Hardy County commissioners.

Davis ordered Lawrance S. Miller Jr., judge of the 18th Judicial Court in Preston Co., be assigned to the case — Hardy Co. Case No. 13-C-76.

Petitioners' and respondents' comments ordered by the three-judge panel were submitted last week.

The ruling is expected within 20 days from the receipt of the comments. Miller will preside over the hearing regarding the second part of the case, the ordinance and the purchase of the building.

In the meantime, regarding the $120 ambulance fee, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said the commissioners had a constitutional duty to manage the county's fiscal affairs, and thus collect any special fees.

The third county commissioner, Wade, said he was thankful he was not part of this case.

It will be up to Miller to decide whether to nullify the ordinance and the purchase of the building.

The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals has ordered the Circuit Clerk of Hardy County to forward copies of all the documents pertaining to the case to Miller.

There is no date set on the court docket for the second part of the case.