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Bentley picked as county's director of legal services

July 13, 2007|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Martinsburg attorney Norwood Bentley III is the Berkeley County Commission's choice to be the county's first Director of Legal Services, a position that could become the government's highest paid job.

The unanimous vote to hire Bentley, 59, came with the condition that his salary, expected to range from $90,000 to $147,200, would be negotiated and standard pre-employment requirements, including background checks and drug screening, would be met.

Commission President Steven C. Teufel said he hoped to have Bentley on board in two weeks.

Before entertaining a motion on the hiring decision, Teufel said he was very pleased with the applicants for the job, noting that Bentley and the other two finalists, Christopher C. Quasebarth and Stephanie F. Grove were "very fine" candidates. Quasebarth is Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela J. Games-Neely's chief deputy prosecutor. Grove is an assistant prosecutor for Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney Michael D. Thompson.

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"One person did stand out ... in knowledge and experience," Teufel said.

Aside from saving thousands of dollars in expenses, Teufel anticipated the turnaround time handling the county's overall legal needs would improve.

Bentley's hiring will replace a contract the county has with Bowles Rice McDavid Graff & Love LLP, a regional law firm that has an office in downtown Martinsburg and five other locations in West Virginia, Virginia and Kentucky.

Teufel estimated the change will mean at least $25,000 to $30,000 in annual savings. Under the contract, Bentley acted as the County Commission's legal counsel for 14 years, but another attorney served as legal counsel for the county's planning commission. The new position consolidates practically all of the county's day-to-day legal needs, aside from the criminal dockets handled by Games-Neely's office.

"I very much appreciate your confidence in me," Bentley told Teufel and commissioners Ronald K. Collins and William L. "Bill" Stubblefield after a final round of interviews in executive session and the vote.

Bentley's hiring will effectively end his tenure with Bowles Rice, where his wife, Claudia, is a partner.

"I am going to miss him," said his wife, who joined the firm in October 1988, little more than a month after her husband was hired.

Claudia Bentley serves as the legal counsel for the City of Martinsburg's planning commission and city council on a contractual basis with the firm.

"I know a lot of folks think that would drive them crazy," Bentley said laughing.

Because their areas of legal work were similar, Claudia Bentley said she was able to draw on her husband's wisdom, while he was able draw on her "silliness." Bentley joked that she has was able to act as "the donut police" for her husband, who is fond of the confections.

Norwood Bentley said he would miss his colleagues at Bowles Rice, but the he had been considering a professional change for a while.

"This is an exciting opportunity for me and one that I'm happy to do," Bentley said.

Before being admitted to the West Virginia Bar in 1986, Bentley served as Gov. Jay Rockefeller's appointment secretary. He said he also was commissioner of the West Virginia Alcohol Beverage Control Commission for four years.

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