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Supreme Court to hear jail appeal

January 30, 2002

Supreme Court to hear jail appeal



By DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writer, Charles Town


CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - The state Supreme Court of Appeals has agreed to hear an appeal of a lower court decision that allowed the Jefferson County Commissioners to tear down the former Jefferson County Jail.

Carol Gallant, one of two Jefferson County residents who filed the appeal, said she is encouraged by the decision.

"The fact that the West Virginia Supreme Court found merit in our arguments also confirms the efforts of so many everyday people this last year to hold public officials accountable and require that all decisions affecting our heritage be weighed carefully," Gallant said in a news release.

The court voted 3-2 to hear the appeal, making its ruling last week.

It is unclear when the high court will hear the appeal, Jefferson County Commission President James G. Knode said Tuesday night.

County officials are not likely to learn of the court date until Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney Michael D. Thompson, who is representing the commissioners in the case, receives a court order from the Supreme Court, Knode said.

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The Jefferson County Commissioners want to tear down the jail at the corner of George and Liberty streets and construct offices.

Gallant and Jim Whipple are among residents who say the jail should be saved because it has historical significance, namely a treason trial held there for United Mine Workers official William Blizzard in 1922.

Jefferson County Circuit Judge Thomas W. Steptoe Jr. had halted the demolition of the jail until the state Division of Culture and History could review the project.

Steptoe then ruled the commissioners could tear down the jail because a bill recently passed in the Legislature freed county governments from a requirement to conduct such historical reviews.

"This decision says citizens can and should be heard on public matters and that existing laws cannot be bypassed or changed with impunity," said Gallant, president of the group, Jefferson County Preservation Alliance to Save our Heritage.

The jail, built in 1918, has been vacant for 10 years and is used for storage.

According to the preservation group, the jail contains a house with winding stairs and a fireplace where the jailer and his family once lived.

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