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Judge: Some Berkeley County sheriff's deputies wrongfully promoted

April 11, 2012|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthew.umstead@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Some Berkeley County sheriff’s deputies were wrongfully promoted since 2009 at the expense of other deputies who were denied advancement, a circuit judge has ruled.

Two sets of rules that were used by the Berkeley County Deputy Sheriffs’ Civil Service Commission for making such promotions violated state law, 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge Christopher C. Wilkes ruled in a 32-page final order filed last month.

Five promotions made since 2009 will now have to be revisited by the civil service commission, which was ordered by Wilkes to recalculate deputies’ scores based on the results of competitive examination, performance evaluations and years of service with the sheriff’s office. 

The judge wrote that “extra points for education, previous law enforcement experience and oral interviews are not part of the ‘complete and all-inclusive system ... for promotion ... of deputies’” in state code and are prohibited.

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Wilkes gave the commission 60 days from March 13, when he signed the order, to certify deputies for promotion and ordered Sheriff Kenneth Lemaster to “cooperate with the commission in the completion of these promotions to the extent necessary and to promptly promote the certified individuals.”

Wilkes’ ruling is the result of a petition that Lemaster had Charleston, W.Va., attorney John R. Teare Jr., file in February 2011 in circuit court. 

The sheriff filed the petition to obtain guidance concerning questions about the promotion rules being used by the commission, Teare said in a telephone interview Wednesday.

The judge granted in part and denied part of the sheriff’s petitions.

“I don’t think the judge found that anyone did anything wrong on purpose,” said Teare, who noted the commission is comprised of community volunteers.

The three-member panel is comprised of Gregory R. Ahalt, J. Edward Slonaker and Charles Eversole. Berkeley County Clerk John W. Small Jr. acts as the commission’s secretary. 

The ruling appears to end more than three years of personnel wrangling dating back to January 2009, when Lemaster asked the commission to conduct a promotional examination for all eligible candidates, according to the court order.

Multiple grievances filed with the commission by deputies concerning promotion procedures taken since the sheriff’s request were subsequently filed, according to uncontested facts in Wilkes’ court order.

Teare said he expects some of the deputies who were promoted to lose their rank while others will be promoted who were not previously.

Three of five officers promoted — Brendon Hall, Trampus Boyles and William Christian — were not eligible, according to facts in Wilkes’ final order.

Attorney Laura Faircloth, who has represented several deputies named in the case, said it is her position that those who should have been promoted, but were not, are entitled to back pay.

Teare said it is an unfortunate situation for those who were not promoted, but he doesn’t believe they are entitled to back pay.

Those who received additional pay for their promotion do not stand to lose the money because they still had to fulfill the duties of the position, according to Teare.

Wilkes ruled that he could not “at this time” rule on pay issues, ordering the commission to address the matter.

“This issue is complex; for those who were wrongfully promoted and for those who were denied promotions because of other’s wrongfully being promoted,” Wilkes said.

Wilkes also ordered the commission to adopt rules and regulations that comply with state code, his order and other applicable law within 60 days after his March 13 order.

Paul G. Taylor, the commission’s attorney, said the panel was taking steps to comply with Wilkes’ order.

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