Cumberland Times-News

March 20, 2014

Hearing over fate of Hardy commissioners wraps up

Decision on the removal of two officials expected within 20 days

MARLA PISCIOTTA
Cumberland Times-News

— MOOREFIELD, W.Va. — A three-day hearing on whether to remove from office two Hardy County commissioners wrapped up Wednesday evening following testimony from both sides of the legal aisle. A decision on the fate of J. Michael Teets and William E. Keplinger Jr. is expected within 20 days.

The court proceeding stems from a feud between county residents and the two commissioners that began when the commission passed an ordinance to place a $120 a year fee for ambulance service to residents in the county.

In addition, a lawsuit alleges the commissioners purchased a $1.13 million building without the taxpayers’ approval.

In November, a 30-page petition with a 200-page attachment that included 700 signatures was filed in Circuit Court asking for removal of Teets and Keplinger.

The three-judge panel, appointed by the West Virginia Supreme Court, asked the attorneys to prepare a summary as to why the judges should rule in their favor.

“I feel good about the case,” said Teets, the commission president, after the hearing.

Keplinger and commissioner J. David Judy could not be reached for comment.

The case began Monday with Moorefield attorney David Judy representing dissatisfied voters and the law firm Steptoe and Johnson, Martinsburg, representing the commissioners.

Judy presented 17 witnesses. He also had more than 100 exhibits showing a paper trail of events. He rested his case Wednesday morning.

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

One of the first rulings made by Fox addressed the petition.

In addition to the removal of the two commissioners, the petition included the dispute regarding ambulance fees and the building purchase. Fox separated those two issues Monday from the petition, leaving only the dismissal of the commissioners to be heard. The ambulance fee and purchase of the building will be assigned a future date on the court’s docket.

Although 700 signatures were collected against the commissioners, the attendance in the courtroom was less than 30 each day.

While the legal process was taking place, the commission, on Nov. 12, voted to pass an ordinance to place a levy on the ballot in the May election that would benefit the Hardy County Ambulance Service.

In the interim, Lucas See, the county’s prosecuting attorney, wrote a letter to the state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey regarding the $120 ambulance fee.

Morrisey said the county commissioners had a constitutional duty to manage the county’s fiscal affairs and thus collect any special fees.

Commissioner A.J. Wade said after the conclusion of the hearing Wednesday, “I don’t want to speculate on the case. I’m thankful I was not part of it.”

Contact Marla Pisciotta at marlapisciotta@frontier.com.