Prosecutor cleans house in Berkeley County

December 05, 1996


Staff Writer

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Three of Berkeley County's five full-time assistant prosecutors, including two who ran against their boss in elections this year and one who contributed to her opponent's campaign, were fired this week by Prosecutor Pamela Games-Neely.

A fourth was put on probation.

Fired en masse Monday morning were Janet Scalia, with seven years service, and Matthew Bienek and Steve Greenbaum, each with three years service. They will leave their posts on Dec. 31.

Games-Neely said Wednesday that she is "negotiating" with Scalia and may end up keeping her on, but with different duties.

She beat Scalia by more than 2,000 votes in the November election. Scalia won the Democratic primary in May against Bienek. Greenbaum said Wednesday that he had donated $50 to Bienek's primary campaign.


Games-Neely denied that her actions were prompted by political revenge. "There are no ill feelings against any of them. This has to be done to get the county back on track," she said. "When I direct that the work be done a certain way and it's not done that way then there's an attitude that conflicts with the best interest of the county."

Games-Neely said had she lost the election, "I would have left out of respect to her (Scalia). I'd be in the same place if she won."

She said while Scalia's work "was exceptional" there were problems with "power struggles and I'm not going to live with that."

The fact that Scalia only has two years to work to be eligible for the county's pension plan is a factor in the negotiations, Games-Neely said. Scalia handles welfare fraud and appeals cases. If she stays she will oversee Magistrate Court which has a 20,000-case backlog and has become "a nightmare," Games-Neely said.

Scalia had a "Do not disturb" sign on her office door Wednesday. She declined to comment.

Greenbaum and Assistant Prosecutor Nathan Cochran handle Magistrate Court cases. Games-Neely said she put Cochran on six months probation. He could not be reached for comment.

Games-Neely complained that too many plea bargains in Magistrate Court and too many driving under the influence cases have been pleaded down to "next to nothing." She said there is unsatisfactory case preparation, too many cases are being sent up to Circuit Court that don't belong there and there are too many continuances.

"One case had 17 or 18 continuances. There isn't going to be anymore `let's make a deal.' I was elected to run this office and transparent justice is going to end," she said.

"I wish them all well. In their own respect they are all good lawyers. It's not their work, it's their attitudes. They just didn't follow orders. This has been like a bad marriage. It's time to say enough is enough," she said.

Games-Neely was appointed prosecutor in 1993 to fill an unexpired term left by Diana Cook Risavi. She was elected to a four-year term in November.

Greenbaum, who will enter private practice, said he was shocked over being fired. "In three years here there was never anything indicated to me that there was a problem with plea bargains or how cases were handled. I always followed her orders. She never led me to believe there was anything deficient with my performance. She's only held one or two staff meetings since I've been here. What does that say about her desire to communicate and run an organized, cohesive unit?

"She has ordered me to plead DUI cases to reckless driving when the defendant's blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit. Ninety-eight percent of the DUI cases I prosecute plea to DUI."

Bienek, who handles mostly Circuit Court cases, said he expected to lose his job after the May primary. "I realized I was taking a chance when I filed, but when it didn't happen I figured any hard feelings were over with. I had my mind at ease, but I guess that was a mistake. I'm really not clear on why we were fired," he said."

He said he has no immediate plans. "I'm looking at my options," Bienek said.

Scalia makes $41,000 a year. Greenbaum and Bienek earn about $36,000. Games-Neely will earn $74,000 a year after January.

The firings leave the office with two full-time assistants. Games-Neely said she can have one replacement lawyer on board in January. She said she may hire a part-time assistant after that and use the money she saves to hire a part-time investigator.

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