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Fired deputy gets job back

January 26, 2001

Fired deputy gets job back



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg


MARTINSBURG, W. Va. - Fired Berkeley County Sheriff's Deputy Wilbur Johnson will get his job back with full benefits and full back pay under an agreement signed by Circuit Court Judge Christopher Wilkes and filed with the court Friday.

Johnson will be responsible for attorney's fees and give up any further appeals of the case.

Johnson , a corporal, was fired by former Sheriff Ron Jones Nov. 14 after the county Civil Service Commission ruled that the deputy violated state law by wearing a baseball cap advocating the candidacy of Randy Smith, Jones' opponent in the Nov. 7 election. The law prohibits deputies engaging in political activity.

The commissioners said they had no choice under state law but to fire him, but urged Jones to give him 90 days to file an appeal with Circuit Court. One week after the election, which Jones lost, Johnson was fired. He then appealed.

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The settlement was reached between Johnson and the Sheriff's Office headed by Smith.

Under the agreement, Johnson admits he "engaged in prohibited political activity"

The settlement states that the matter will be 'recharacterized" as a violation of internal Sheriff's Office regulations, not as a violation of state law.

"It's a compromise," said Johnson's lawyer Barry Beck. Johnson returns to his job Feb. 1 and gets back pay, but gives up his right to appeal and is responsible for attorney's fees, Beck said. Had Johnson prevailed on appeal, the county might have been forced to pay those fees.

Johnson will face no further penalty for the action. But Beck said that is not uncommon.

"There are frequently occurrences where civil servants violate rules where they are not punished and it is put on their record," Beck said. "And he's not admitting, and does not admit, that he would not have prevailed on appeal."

"I'm glad things worked out," Smith said. "The punishment didn't fit the so-called violation, if there was one."

Jones could be reached for comment.

"I think it was extremely fair and balanced," said attorney Charles Printz, Jr., who represented the Sheriff's Office. "Everybody gave up something to get him back on the force."

Civil Service Commissioner Greg Ahalt said he is pleased with the outcome.

"The judge made the ruling," Ahalt said. "That was our intent, to get this before a judge for a determination of political activity, to get another set of eyes on this. So this decision doesn't upset me, by any means. I'm pleased. I think the case warranted some action, but not dismissal. But under the code, we had no choice."

He said Johnson did suffer the penalty stemming from the dismissal.

"He went through some months of mental anguish," Ahalt said.

Smith said, "Going through this experience and paying the fees is enough punishment."

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