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Lawsuit against Berkeley Commission is dismissed

October 21, 2005|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Because of what one attorney described as a technicality, a judge this week dismissed a lawsuit filed by four elected county officials against the Berkeley County Commission.

Circuit Judge David Sanders dismissed the suit Monday. It was filed last December by the county's sheriff, prosecuting attorney, assessor and circuit clerk, who claimed the County Commission had "arbitrarily and capriciously" adopted an unfair salary scale, refused to allow an adequate number of employees to be hired and had not dispersed reasonable budgets to certain offices.

During the Berkeley County Commission meeting Thursday morning, county attorney Norwood Bentley announced that the suit had been dismissed.

"It's over and done with," he told the commissioners, who were not aware of the judge's action.

In his two-page dismissal order, Sanders wrote in part: "During the early stages of this action, Plaintiffs came forth and asked the Court to allow for further negotiations. Despite numerous inquiries by the Court, the Plaintiffs have yet to inform the Court as to the outcome of the negotiations. However, the Court has taken notice that since the outset of this action there have been substantial changes of circumstances, which have provided the Plaintiffs with a significant pay raise."

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Sanders also wrote that because of a 1998 state Supreme Court ruling, a Circuit Court judge had no jurisdiction over the persons involved in the suit, and therefore cannot take any action.

"A court which has jurisdiction of the subject matter in litigation exceeds its legitimate powers when it undertakes to hear and determine a proceeding without jurisdiction of the parties," the order states.

Bentley explained the ruling to Sheriff Randy Smith during a recess of the commission meeting.

"I think what he's saying to you is, 'I don't want to deal with this. Do it yourselves,'" Bentley said, who agreed with the sheriff that the basis for the dismissal was a legal technicality.

Smith said the suit can be refiled, but he does not expect that to happen.

"Productive talks" between those who filed the suit and commissioners Steve Teufel and Ron Collins have helped eliminate some of the problems that prompted the suit to be filed, including employees salaries deemed to be too low, Smith said.

Last month, the commissioners agreed to spend part of a $3 million budget surplus on employee salaries, with some employees receiving raises this year totaling $10,000.

Smith said his remaining concerns center on manpower issues and salary adjustments.

"Nothing that can't be worked out if people just sit down and communicate and talk," he said.

Attempts to reach Teufel on Thursday for a comment were unsuccessful.

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