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Two contempt charges against area attorney dropped

July 05, 2002|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A circuit judge has dismissed two counts of contempt against Martinsburg attorney Laura Rose, leaving her with two pending charges.

Berkeley County Circuit Judge Christopher Wilkes ruled Tuesday that Berkeley County Magistrate Kristy Greer's two contempt orders against Rose on May 30, 2001, were illegal.

Rose is fighting two other contempt counts that Greer ordered on Dec. 11, 2001.

Greer issued the first two counts - the ones Wilkes dismissed - during proceedings leading up to an obstruction trial for Paul Rankin Sr.

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That day, Greer told Rose she was offended by an analogy Rose made during a previous trial in which Rose compared Rankin's wife, Wilma, to Jesus Christ.

Greer ordered Rose not to inject religion into the Paul Rankin Sr. trial.

Rose protested, at one point replying, "I have no obligation to be unoffensive to you."

During the exchange, Greer cited Rose once, then a second time, and threatened to cite her a third time, which could have sent Rose to jail.

The fines were $50 for the first offense and $100 for the second offense plus court costs for a total of $284.

Wilkes threw out Greer's orders on two points.

First, he said Greer failed to grant Rose a hearing on the contempt charges, as required by law.

Second, Rose's conduct didn't rise to the level of contempt, Wilkes wrote in his decision.

"Attorney Rose's language and/or conduct were neither vehement nor boisterous, nor did she in any way obstruct the administration of justice or the duties of the Magistrate. At all times, it appears Ms. Rose maintained a composed demeanor ...," Wilkes wrote.

"The arguments of a lawyer in presenting his client's case strenuously and persistently cannot amount to a contempt of court so long as the lawyer does not in some way create an obstruction which blocks the judge in the performance of his judicial duty."

Greer said Wednesday she was "extremely disappointed" by the decision. She said her interpretation of the state code backs the way she handled the incident.

She cannot appeal the decision because under West Virginia law only the defense has that option, she said.

The second set of contempt charges that Rose is still fighting came during an obstruction trial for Kevin Weaverling.

Rose and Greer agreed that Rose was about 40 or 45 minutes late for the trial that day. Greer alleged that Rose's lateness was unexcused and that Rose was "extremely contentious" when the magistrate chastised her.

Rose said her lateness was due to a conflict with a court proceeding in Jefferson County and that her office notified Greer's office about the delay.

Rose said the debate escalated quickly and "neither of us were very kind to each other."

However, "it was Magistrate Greer who threw what I call a judicial temper tantrum first," Rose said.

Rose has posted a bond equal to the amount of the two contempt fines plus court costs, a total of $410.50.

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