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Supporters of old county jail praise judge's ruling

April 01, 2003|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Jefferson County Circuit Judge Thomas W. Steptoe Jr. ruled Monday that an injunction stopping the demolition of the old Jefferson County Jail cannot be lifted until the Jefferson County Commission calls for a historical review of the jail.

One supporter of saving the jail said the judge's decision is going to make it "a lot tougher" to tear down the jail.

"I think it's a new day in Charles Town," said Jim Whipple, one of a group of local residents who believe the jail could be an integral part of an effort to revitalize downtown Charles Town.

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Steptoe's decision came after an attorney representing the commissioners appeared before the judge requesting that the injunction be lifted so demolition can proceed.

In an earlier decision, Steptoe halted the demolition of the jail until the state Division of Culture and History could review the project.

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

Whipple and county resident Carol Gallant appealed that decision to the state Supreme Court.

Since the high court made its decision recently, lawyers representing both sides of the case have given different interpretations on how the commission can proceed.

Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney Michael D. Thompson told the commissioners they could proceed with the demolition by taking another vote on the issue.

The commissioners initially voted to tear down the jail in November 2000, before the new state law loosening up the historical review requirement was passed.

On Feb. 6, the commission voted for the demolition again.

Thompson, who is representing the commission, told Steptoe Monday that the current commission should be allowed to vote to tear down the jail because the makeup of the commission is different from the commission that voted for the demolition in November 2000.

Clarksburg, W.Va., attorney Tom Michael, who represented Gallant and Whipple Tuesday, argued the Feb. 6 vote of the commission is the "same old decision."

Thompson said making that assumption is a "slap in the face to the new commission."

Steptoe said that while the Supreme Court decision is clear in some areas, it makes it difficult to know how to proceed in the case.

Steptoe said he did not believe he could deal with the request to lift the injunction until the historical review was completed. That was the decision Gallant and Whipple have been seeking.

Thompson said he did not think the commissioners had to conduct the review.

"It's been a long road to what should have been done 21/2 years ago," Gallant said after Monday's hearing.

Gallant and Whipple hugged each other after Steptoe made his decision.

Tabb said after the hearing that she thinks the commission probably will call for the historical review.

"I think it might be a quite drawn-out process," Tabb said.

Tabb said an interesting note regarding the historical review process is that the commissioners can still tear down the jail regardless of the outcome of the review.

That is the reason the commissioners felt the review process was not a "critical piece" of the project, Tabb said.

Gallant, Whipple and others who supported saving the jail said it should be preserved because of its architecture and because of a series of trials held in Charles Town in 1922 for miners involved in a labor uprising referred to as the Battle of Blair Mountain in southern West Virginia.

Under the historical review, the commissioners have to prove they did research to examine possible alternative uses for the jail, Gallant said after Monday's hearing.

The commissioners also have to gather public input on the issue, Gallant said.

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