Students’ federal Mountain State claims dropped

MARTINSBURG — A federal lawsuit filed by more than a dozen Mountain State University nursing students is headed back to state court after the students dropped their racketeering allegations against university leaders.

The case was sent to Jefferson County Circuit Court earlier this month after the students amended their lawsuit, according to published reports.

The students sued after the school closed its doors because it lost accreditation. They claim school officials orchestrated a scheme to increase enrollment so the school could bring in more federal student loan and grant money.

The claim will join others that were ordered into a mass litigation panel. The cases are scheduled for mediation later this month.

A separate federal lawsuit was filed by another former Mountain State nursing student.

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

Mountain State’s accreditation was revoked by the state Higher Education Policy Commission in June 2012 because of leadership, organizational and integrity issues. In December, the commission denied Mountain State’s bid to regain its accreditation.

 

HINTON

Man sentenced for torching house: A Hinton man convicted of a torching a house could spend more than 20 years in prison.

Billy Joe Gill had pleaded guilty in July to first-degree arson and malicious wounding. He was sentenced Friday in Summers County Circuit Court to two to 20 years in prison on the arson charge and one to three years on the wounding charge.

Police also had charged Gill with setting a fire that destroyed a block of apartment buildings known as Brick Row. Prosecutors later dropped that charge.

Both fires occurred Feb. 26.

 

CHARLESTON

State eliminating paper checks for state employees: Starting this fall, paper paychecks will be a thing of the past for West Virginia state employees.

State Treasurer John Perdue said Friday that beginning in October, employees will be paid by direct deposit or with a Visa debit card.

Perdue’s office says eliminating written checks is expected to save the state $500,000.

State officials said that for the next pay period in August, about 4,000 of the nearly 45,000 on the state’s payroll will be paid by check.

If they haven’t signed up for direct deposit by Oct. 1, they’ll receive their first payment on the card Oct. 31, Purdue’s office said.

The treasurer’s office says the state would have to make costly changes to a new software system if it were to keep using paper checks. And the change “eliminates a quite a bit of paper that’s processed through state government,” said Justin Southern, spokesman for State Auditor Glen Gainer. West Virginia already pays unemployment benefits via Chase debit cards.

State officials said employees with pay cards will be able to access funds free at Visa member banks and at certain ATMs in the state, as well as pay with the card wherever Visa is accepted. If employees don’t use one of the ATMs designated by the state, they will be charged fees to get their salaries.

 

AG joins effort to allow prayer at meetings: State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey says West Virginia has joined 22 other states in seeking to overturn a court ruling that banned a New York town’s practice of opening its legislative sessions with a prayer.

Morrisey says the states have filed a friend of the court brief asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a ruling in the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals. The appeals court had ruled that prayers at legislative meetings in the town of Greece, N.Y., violated the First Amendment’s establishment clause.

The brief seeks a ruling that doesn’t require prayers before legislative bodies to be screened for sectarian references.

The West Virginia Legislature traditionally opens its sessions with a short, nondenominational prayer.

 

MORGANTOWN

W.Va. Radio wants to stop WVU deal: West Virginia Radio Corp. wants a judge to stop West Virginia University from finalizing a media rights contract for sports events and reset the clock to June so it can reclaim the business it’s lost.

The network asked Circuit Judge Thomas Evans for a preliminary injunction to keep WVU from sealing a deal with North Carolina-based IMG College.

It also wants the contract rebid, with IMG and West Virginia Media Holdings disbarred.

West Virginia Media is a subcontractor and competing network of news organizations.

WVU won’t comment on pending litigation. Evans hasn’t scheduled a hearing.

West Virginia Radio had tried to stop both companies from bidding because WVU’s broadcasts were handled for decades by university-operated Mountaineer Sports Network.

It works closely with West Virginia Radio.

 

BUCKHANNON

Man sentenced for threatening school board: A Buckhannon man will spend at least a year in prison for invoking the mass shooting in Connecticut in a voicemail message to the Upshur County Board of Education.

Forty-five-year-old Tony Vincent Herndon was convicted in Upshur County Circuit Court of making threats of a terroristic act.

Herndon was sentenced last week to one to three years in prison.

Police say Herndon called the school board’s office in January to demand reinstatement of his privilege to be on school property. He said that if school officials refused, they should remember what happened in Newtown, Conn.

 

ELKINS

Sheriff denies charges in sex-assault case: A West Virginia sheriff accused of sexually assaulting a woman has formally denied the charges.

Barbour County Sheriff John Hawkins filed an answer to the accusations this week in U.S. District Court in Elkins, denying any wrongdoing.

He also asks the court to strike from her complaint some “unnecessarily sensational” language that he says is designed solely to gain attention.

It accuses the county of failing to train Hawkins how to not act like a brutish Neanderthal.

The Barbour County Commission has also said it will fight the accusations and has found no evidence to support them.

The victim says she was 17 and applying for a 911 center job when she was sexually assaulted.

She also sued for unlawful arrest, excessive force, civil conspiracy, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution.

 

— Compiled with information

from the Associated Press

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