More lawsuits target closing Mountain State University

Student lawsuits continue to pile up against Mountain State University, the Beckley-based private school that is being shuttered this month.

More than a dozen lawsuits already have been filed in U.S. District Court in Martinsburg, with five more lawsuits filed Monday.

In June, the Higher Learning Commission revoked the private Beckley-based school’s accreditation because of leadership, organizational and integrity issues.

The University of Charleston took over Mountain State’s campuses in Beckley and Martinsburg so students can complete their degrees.

Shepherdstown attorney Sherman Lambert Sr. said the lawsuits accuse the former president and Mountain State entities of racketeering activity.

BECKLEY

Tech could get four years: A former Beckley Police Department evidence technician could face up to four years in prison and a $250,000 fine after pleading guilty to taking controlled substances from the department’s evidence locker.

The single-page information filed Oct. 5 states Gabriella Brown, 31, of Beckley, fraudulently obtained oxycodone.

Brown, who served as an evidence custodian for 15 months, appeared Monday before U.S. District Judge David A. Faber in Bluefield.

According to the stipulation of facts, as an evidence technician, Brown was responsible for “logging evidence into the evidence room, filling out property control forms, placing evidence into evidence bags and completing the chain of custody forms.”

She also held one of the two keys to the evidence room, the stipulation states.

The stipulation states a Beckley police department officer placed a container with 49 15-mg oxycodone pills and 16 30-mg morphine pills into the evidence locker.

CHARLESTON

Organizer faces charges: The treasurer of an annual West Virginia cultural festival is charged with filing a false federal income tax return.

A U.S. District Court filing on Friday alleges Deborah S. Starks purposely under-reported her 2008 income as less than $14,000. Federal prosecutors allege her taxable income was greatly above that amount.

Starks, treasurer of MultiFest, co-founded the annual event with husband Stephen Starks in the early 1990s. Held on the state Capitol grounds each summer, MultiFest offers a weekend of food, arts, crafts, music and other entertainments.

Prosecutors leveled the charge through a filing known as an information rather than seek an indictment from a grand jury. That usually indicates a plea agreement is possible.

Bearless Capitol: The three stuffed bears that stood outside the attorney general’s office for the last decade are no longer at the Capitol.

Attorney General Darrell McGraw’s staff removed the bears last week.

Former Secretary of State Ken Hechler bought two of the bears in the 1980s and put them outside his office. When Hechler left office in 2001, he loaned the bears to McGraw, who last month lost his bid for a record sixth term.

A third bear owned by former senior assistant attorney general Rex Burford joined the display later.

Hechler’s bears have taken up residence at his Charleston office.

Burford now lives in Wilmington, N.C. He says his bear will go to someone in West Virginia.

Ethics exit: The executive director of the West Virginia Ethics Commission is stepping down, headed for work in the private sector.

Theresa Kirk has served as executive director since February 2009. Before her appointment, she served as the commission’s legal counsel for more than five years.

She asked the commission to approve an employment exemption so she can seek a job in the private sector, a request that was OK’d.

Kirk says she expects to stay on for up to three months to help the commission prepare its 2013 legislative agenda. She also will help in the transition to a new executive director.

Pledge break: A principal in Kanawha County cancelled the Pledge of Allegiance Dec. 3 after several students said they were being forced to recite it.

Capital High School principal Clinton Giles also canceled the national anthem for a day, saying students’ complaints misrepresented the school’s requirements.

He says Capital students aren’t required to recite the pledge, but must stand during the pledge so those who take part aren’t distracted.

A June 14, 1943 U.S. Supreme Court ruling – involving children of Jehovah’s Witnesses, including some families from West Virginia – says students can’t be forced to say the pledge or to salute the flag in school.

WEST LIBERTY

Athlete charged in death: A West Liberty University football player has been arrested following a slaying last month in Florida.

Vernon Dunnom, 24, has been arraigned in Ohio County Magistrate Court on charges of first-degree homicide, attempted homicide and two counts of robbery, according to Deputy U.S. Marshal Chad Simpson in Wheeling.

Simpson said two people were shot, one fatally, during the robbery Nov. 17 in Miami Gardens, Fla. A warrant for Dunnom’s arrest was issued in Miami-Dade County.

Dunnom – a junior defensive end and running back from Pittsburg, Calif., who played in four games for West Liberty this season – is being held at the Northern Regional Jail in Moundsville.

WINFIELD

Judge suspension recommended: A Putnam County Family Court judge who cussed and yelled at people before him in court could be suspended without pay until the end of his term in 2016 if the state Supreme Court accepts recent recommendations from the Judicial Hearing Board.

The board handed down an order last week saying Putnam County Family Court Judge William M. Watkins III violated canons of the judicial code of conduct.

In addition, the board recommended Watkins to be censured on each of his 24 violations.

The Special Judicial Disciplinary Counsel also recently recommended that Watkins be suspended for 90 days but only if he did not cooperate with the state Supreme Court’s recommendations.

The counsel also recommended that he take anger management courses, address office problems, take six hours of judicial training for domestic violence and pay a $17,759 fine.

MORGANTOWN

WVU to-go ware changes: Students at West Virginia University will soon see more environmentally friendly, reusable to-go cartons rather than foam containers long used by the school.

WVU Dining Services has contracted with OZZI Enterprises to provide the reusable containers at select dining facilities on campus. The system developed by the company allows students, after eating, to return the container to a collection machine where they receive a token to use the next time they need a container. The dirty containers are cleaned and sanitized for reuse.

Students will test the system at The Terrace Room in Stalnaker Hall starting with the spring semester. Dining Services director David Friend says if students like it, the system will be expanded across campus.

FARMINGTON

Cheerleading coach charged: Officers from the West Virginia State Police have arrested former North Marion High School freshman cheerleading coach Amanda “Mandi” Barker, and charged her with three counts of sexual abuse by person in trust of a child and one count of soliciting a minor via computer.

Barker was initially arrested in October and charged with three counts of sexual abuse by a person in a position of trust. State Police said two new victims have come forward.

Barker is out of jail on $100,000 bond.

PRINCETON

Sheriff’s office paybacks: A former Mercer County Sheriff’s Department employee has paid back more than $14,000 that she admitted taking from the agency.

Charlotte Harvey, 53, of Princeton pleaded guilty to one embezzlement count.

Harvey’s attorney turned over a $14,605.75 check for restitution during a hearing earlier this month in Mercer County Circuit Court.

Harvey told the judge that she went to Sheriff Don Meadows and admitted embezzling money when she heard that there might be an investigation.

– Compiled by Christine Miller Ford, with information from The Associated Press

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