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W.Va. bill could force councilwoman from race

February 16, 2012|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthew.umstead@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Legislation is moving through the West Virginia Legislature that could force a Berkeley County Council member to abandon her bid for re-election this year because of a 10-year-old felony conviction.

Any person convicted of treason, bribery, perjury or any felony that is punishable by incarceration for more than a year would be disqualified from being elected to any public office in the state, according to a bill that was revised by the Senate Judiciary Committee and renamed Substitute for Senate Bill 518.

Berkeley County Councilwoman Elaine C. Mauck, who was elected to a two-year term in 2010, was convicted in federal court of one felony count of failure to properly dispose of asbestos in 2002, according to court documents.

Mauck said she was not aware of the pending legislation, which was read on the Senate floor for the first time Thursday.

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“I’ve only done what I should do for Berkeley County,” Mauck said. “If it goes that way, it goes that way.”
The bill, which must be read on the Senate floor three times, is on track to be voted on by the 34-member Senate by early next week, according to the Legislature’s procedural rules. If the Senate passes it, the bill would move to the House of Delegates, which must vote on it before midnight on March 10, the end of the Legislature’s 60-day regular session.

West Virginia had a 1931 law on the books banning felons from holding public office. But the state Supreme Court gutted it two years later, saying the language was unclear, according to published reports.

Mauck faced up to five years in prison for the felony conviction in 2004, but was placed on home confinement for six months as part of her sentence of three years of probation, according to court documents.

Before she won election to Berkeley County Council in 2010, Mauck said in an interview that she did not hide her conviction from people while campaigning, that she regretted what led to her federal prosecution and had moved on with her life.

“You make a mistake, you clean the problem up, and you go with it,” Mauck had said. 

Mauck said Thursday that she didn’t know what she would do if legislation passed that prohibited her from being elected again, noting that she hadn’t thought of that possibility. Mauck said she knew of similar bills that have been introduced in the House this year, but didn’t believe they applied to her case.

SB 518 and two similar House bills were introduced in an apparent effort by lawmakers to close a loophole in the law to derail the candidacy of a former county assessor in southern West Virginia.

Jerry Weaver of Lincoln County pleaded guilty to federal vote-buying charges in 2005, but had filed to run for sheriff earlier this year.

Weaver, who went to prison for a year, withdrew from the county sheriff’s race Tuesday, the same day that the Senate Judiciary Committee reported that it passed the substitute version of SB 518, according to published reports.

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