by Ron Gregory
A major question many have had since the May 30, 2015 attack on Dawson Isom is whether anyone, regardless of their position, can appear before a grand jury and ask for an indictment.
While there are many reasons such a move would not usually be logical, it seems the state Supreme Court settled that question 35 years ago. In a ruling that involved a Clay County matter, the court was very specific in their conclusion.
“We therefore hold that by application to the circuit judge, whose duty is to insure access to the grand jury, and person may go to the grand jury to present a complaint to it,” the Court said in Miller v. Smith.
The “Smith” in this case is former Clay Prosecutor Hunter Smith. Although I cannot recall all the details of the case, I covered it as editor of the Clay Messenger. It was a case with a circus atmosphere, a special judge and all kinds of entertainment. Details are not necessarily needed by today’s audience but it basically involved one of the richest families in Clay and Ming Dynasty porcelain. A fire destroyed what was said to be millions of dollars of the Ming pieces and the Pierson family blamed a man who had helped acquire some of it.
As I remember it, Smith, who was the elected prosecutor, refused to present the case to the grand jury. The family hired James Wilson Douglas, recently elected as a Kanawha County Family Court judge, as their counsel. Douglas eventually served as special prosecutor in the case and acquired an indictment of the suspect. Now former Supreme Court Justice Larry Starcher, then a circuit judge in Monongalia County, was appointed as the special judge in the case. I believe Smith actually sat at the prosecution table with Douglas and may have even been the one who finally obtained the indictment.
Regardless, the matter reached the state Supreme Court based on the question as to whether Douglas could appear before the grand jury when Smith would not. The justices pretty well summed it up by saying ANYONE can try to obtain an indictment from a grand jury.
In practice, as noted, such a move is often not practical and certainly has inherent problems in its implementation.
If you or I, as non-lawyers, showed up before the grand jury to ask that they indict John Doe, the jury would likely be immediately suspicious of our motives. They are accustomed to seeing the local prosecutor accompanied by at least one member of law enforcement to present an investigation report. The fact that you and I are NOT the Prosecutor and likely would not have a uniformed police officer with us would immediately throw up a red flag, probably.
It is also likely that by appearing on our own we would offend the local bar as well as law enforcement. That is never a really intelligent thing to do.
All of these questions have been raised, of course, in the Dawson Isom case. Readers have constantly asked me why Isom family attorney Mike Clifford, himself a former Kanawha County Prosecutor, does not just appear before the grand jury himself and ask for felony indictments of the accused assailants. Again, I generally have pointed out that Clifford is hired to handle the civil side of the case and probably does not think it wise to engage the grand jury himself. That is particularly true now that voters rejected Prosecutor Teresa Maynard in favor of Duke Jewell. Since Maynard resigned early to take a state job, Jewell is already the prosecutor.
It would likely appear to be an insult to Jewell if Clifford or anyone else appeared before the grand jury now. Jewell has to have time to review not only what exists of an Isom file and all the other cases Maynard mishandled during the past two years.
But I did feel it was time to answer the inquiries. I can assure readers that I have not discussed the case with Jewell and have not talked to Clifford about his strategies. Therefore, what you have read here is just one man’s opinion, as usual. I do know anyone can go before the grand jury, however. That’s the law, according to the Supreme Court.
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Word that Maynard is taking a pay cut in her new state job does nothing to change the overall indignity of her being appointed in the first place.
Maynard is now making $80,000 a year at the state when she was making just over $100,000 at Mingo Prosecutor. Suffice it to say she is being paid about $80,000 too much at the state just as she was overpaid as Prosecutor.
Readers have asked the logic Governor Earl Ray Tomblin used in appointing Maynard as Director of the Office of Administrative Hearings. Some have guessed the appointment is political and/or a “payback” for something Maynard has done over the years. It clearly is political.
There is nothing in Maynard’s resume that indicates she would be qualified to oversee all administrative law judges in the state. While some have asked me what her experience with regard to DUI convictions and suspensions of driving privileges is, it should be noted she talked more about family and juvenile matters when she appeared before the State Senate Confirmations Committee.
Aside from Maynard’s experience in getting certain well-connected Mingo juveniles off the hook for serious charges, I’m not really sure what her experience in that field is either.
Tomblin made a huge mistake in appointing Maynard; one that slapped the voters of Mingo in the face. The Confirmatiions Committee and full Senate failed the honest people in confirming her. The situation is that simple although we still do not know the real motive.
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Speaking of the Supreme Court, rumors are rampant that the justices will go along with a state Law Disciplinary Board recommendation that former Kanawha County Prosecutor Mark Plants be publicly reprimanded.
Plants, who eventually was removed as prosecutor because of his actions in a domestic situation, was held to a higher standard than the public, the board said. They said his actions in the domestic matter were “considered more egregious because of the betrayal of the public trust attached to the office.”
Since leaving office as Prosecutor, Plants has been operating a law office in South Charleston.
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While a desperate Bill Cole for Governor campaign will do anything to cut into Democrat Jim Justice’s 15-point lead over the Republican State Senate President, attempting to tie Justice to Hillary Clinton is another stretch.
Although such tactics failed to work in the Democrat primary, Republicans have been fixated on attacking Justice’s business dealings. The state’s richest man has been sued, as often happens in the routine operation of businesses.
Now, however, Cole wants to link Juatice to the unpopular Clinton. Justice, who must be given accolades for honesty, has publicly said he supported both John McCain and Mitt Romney for President. He is clearly not supporting Clinton this time. These silly attacks are amateurish and do nothing to help Cole’s standing.
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Second District Congressman Alex Mooney, a Republican, apparently decided to confirm a poll commissioned by his Democrat opponent this week. Local media made little of Democrat Mark Hunt’s announcement that he and Mooney were “neck-and-neck” in a poll by Lake Research.
Instead of disputing the results, Mooney put out an email Thursday saying he desperately needs financial support because he and Hunt are the same “neck-and-neck.”
Thus, a race that some thought might be tilting to the Republican is dead even, according to the incumbent Republican.
That’s interesting to know, Congressman.
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Your comments, story ideas, rumors and plans to present felony cases to grand juries are always welcome. Use my email listed or call my cell, 304-533-5185.