CHARLES TOWN – Jefferson County commissioners are poised this week to lay out their plans for appointing an interim sheriff, following an opinion from the state’s attorney general.
Attorney General Patrick Morrisey sent a formal advisory opinion to the commissioners late Thursday, advising them to appoint a sheriff “as soon as practicable” in order to comply with with the state Code and Constitution.
The interim sheriff will serve until 2014, when a special election will be held for the remaining two years of the term of former sheriff Robert “Bobby” Shirley, who resigned his post last month before pleading guilty to federal excessive force charges, for which he is still awaiting sentencing. He could face up to 10 years in prison and $250,000 in fines. Shirley had just won re-election in a tight race in November.
The commission had been mulling several options for selecting a new sheriff, including appointing a replacement, holding an expedited special election or keeping in the position Chief Deputy Jesse Jones, who was appointed to manage the sheriff’s office until a replacement could be named.
But Morrisey advised the commission that state law did not allow any of those options, and instead mandated that the commission appoint a replacement of the same political party as Shirley, a Democrat.
Manuel said Morrisey’s opinion affirms what commissioners’ counsel, Stephanie Grove, told them, that they were ultimately going to appoint someone for the job. Manuel said the Commission is set to establish a procedure for the appointment at its meeting Thursday.
“I do know that we are going to advertise the position for two weeks, and we’ll do that, in all probability, in two local newspapers,” Manuel said. “After that, we’re going to develop a process of how we’re going to handle the applicants, which will include an interview and possibly a public hearing. We have not yet developed that procedure on how it will progress. We will have to do that as a body.”
Manuel said several individuals have already thrown their hat into the ring informally, dropping off applications at the commission’s office.
“Anyone who wanted to give us information could do that now by bringing their information into the [County Commission’s] clerk,” he said. “They will be placed in the file right along with those people that respond to the advertisement.”
Manuel said he expected an appointment to be made within a month or more.
But hiccup with the process was expressed last week by Commissioner Walt Pellish, who said he was not satisfied with the absence in the state Code of job qualification requirements for an appointedee.
“Currently, as I understand the Code, the only thing you need, and the only thing you need to advertise this in the Code, is for a citizen of Jefferson County who is in the Democratic Party. Period,” Pellish said. “It bothers me to the nth degree that there is nothing that demands professionalism, there is nothing that demands a law enforcement background, there is nothing that demands communication skills, people skills. I can go on and on.”
Pellish said he thought the Commission should emphasize these qualifications if they move toward appointing a replacement.
“I’m told by Stephanie [Grove] that we as a commission can add those things, and I want to make it clear that, if we get into an appointment process, I’m going to be clearly looking at those kinds of things.”
In related news, the Commission will convene an emergency meeting today to discuss a motion filed by the West Virginia Counties Risk Pool, the liability insurer for statewide county governments, to intervene in a civil suit against Shirley. The suit in question was filed by Mark Daniel Haines, who Shirley admitted beating and kicking during his 2010 arrest last month in U.S. District Court.
The Risk Pool is asking Judge Robert Preston Bailey to rule that it are not responsible for covering the cost of Shirley’s defense or any civil penalties levied against him. The Risk Pool points out that there are several exceptions in its policy – including for fraud and deceit, for punitive damages, and for purposefully caused damages – which, it argues, mean that Shirley should pay for his own civil defense.