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Berkeley prosecutors married to the job

April 17, 2000|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Stephen Groh prosecutes stacks of misdemeanor cases each weekday - shoplifting, drunken driving, embezzlement, assault and on and on.

He is one of two Berkeley County prosecutors assigned to Magistrate Court, where preliminary hearings for felonies are also held.

Gina Groh prosecutes felonies in Berkeley County Circuit Court. She usually gets the sexual assault cases. She and a colleague share other felony cases and those involving juveniles.

It has been nearly two months since Stephen Groh joined his wife working for Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely. She has five assistants in her office, and the Grohs are two of them.

Stephen, 34, likes the accelerated pace of his day, although it took some adjustment. "As a private attorney, you're in court one or two times a week, but here I have (a pile of) files 4 or 5 inches thick," he said.

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Gina, 35, said she would not want to trade places with her husband.

She spends more time on individual cases as she prepares to try them. "We don't have many holes when we get to trial," she said.

The couple's paths usually don't intersect during the day, unless you count lunchtime. When work is through, they drive to Washington County to pick up their 9-month-old son, Stephen Jr., from Gina's parents, Elizabeth and Foster Householder.

Then the family drives back to their stone house in Jefferson County, on 60 acres of wooded land with a stream nearby.

What do husband-and-wife prosecutors do when they're not working? Often, they talk shop.

"You can't have lawyers stop being lawyers," Gina said.

Christopher Quasebarth can attest to that.

Quasebarth, another of Games-Neely's assistants, handles a lot of appeals and habeas corpus writs. He and his wife, Brenda Waugh, worked in the prosecutor's office for more than a year. Gina Groh filled Waugh's position after she left in the fall of 1998.

Married attorneys - especially married prosecutors - tend to want to swap stories or bounce ideas off each other, said Quasebarth. He said his three children would probably say their parents talk about work too much at home.

Quasebarth and Waugh joined the prosecutor's office together in August 1997. Waugh now has a private practice, dealing mainly in personal injury cases.

The couple was used to working together. They went to law school together and were in a theater group together - Quasebarth did set and light design and Waugh did costume design.

Games-Neely said Quasebarth, Waugh and the Grohs have shown that husbands and wives can work well in the same office - as long as their tasks are separate and distinct.

"The only problem is if they're doing exactly the same thing," she said. "You get into the tensions from home."

"Also, it can be difficult for planning vacations," she said.

Another burden comes during "on call" weeks. The prosecutors rotate the responsibility of attending hearings to determine if defendants are mentally fit to face charges. Those calls can come at any time of the day or night.

Gina joked about how, according to Waugh, it's the mother's prerogative to stay home, so the father should cover both of their calls.

Stephen Groh is hoping, in a way, to leave the prosecutor's office next year. He is running for magistrate in Jefferson County this fall.

He noted that his mother's father, Martin Ingram, was a state's attorney in Washington County around World War II. Ingram also was a magistrate, said Groh, who still has his grandfather's gavel.

Stephen Groh's father is Vincent Groh, of Hagerstown.

Gina Groh said her grandfather is said to have been the equivalent of a state's attorney in his native Italy.

Gina and Stephen Groh dated when they attended Williamsport High School together. Their relationship withered in college. Stephen went to Williams College in Massachusetts and spent a year at the London School of Economics. Gina went to Shepherd College in Shepherdstown, W.Va. The distance got in the way.

After going to law school at the University of Virginia, Stephen was a clerk for Chief U.S. District Judge Jackson Kiser in Danville, Va. He also had a private practice.

Gina went to West Virginia University's law school, then clerked with the Martinsburg firm Steptoe & Johnson. She also handled workers' compensation cases in Hagerstown for a large Baltimore firm.

They rekindled their relationship when Stephen decided to move back to this area.

The Grohs credited Games-Neely with running a good office. Each prosecutor has a niche, so there's no competition, they said. "The office is unique because it's small and compartmentalized," Gina said.

"It's the boss and everyone else," Stephen said.

Both gave examples of satisfying cases they have had.

Gina talked about helping to prosecute a man charged with molesting a young boy. The man's brother was the boy's baby-sitter. When the boy testified against the man he was 5 years old.

"You feel like you're wearing the white hat," she said.

Stephen said a woman who had been badly beaten by her companion was "bloody from head to toe" when police arrived.

It had happened to her before, but she had always been reluctant to press charges. Stephen said he insisted on prosecuting this time, and the man was sent to jail for 30 days.

"You have to look out for the next victim down the road. It was a fight ... but I felt like it was a good thing to do," he said.

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