by Ron Gregory
LOGAN — It may be the “case that never ends.”
The state Supreme Court of Appeals has remanded a long-standing dispute between the Logan County Sheriff and a former deputy to circuit court. In so doing, the high court struck the case from its docket and, basically, said it should never have been there to start with.
The matter involves Deputy James H. Brown, III and, presently, Sheriff Sonya Porter. It dates back to November 9, 2012, when then-Sheriff W.E. Hunter went to Brown’s home and informed the deputy that he was suspended with pay pending an “internal investigation.”
The “Notice of Internal Investigation” delivered to Brown that day not specify allegations against the deputy but said it was to investigate “various allegations of misconduct made against you.” The order did say that if the investigation resulted in a recommendation of punitive action against the deputy, he would be given details of the charges so he could consider an appeal.
As the case has twisted and turned in the legal process, developments have included a mandamus proceeding by Brown to force a hearing of the deputy sheriff civil service commission and an “order” from circuit court awarding attorney fees to the deputy.
In a lengthy memorandum, agreed to by all members of the supreme court, the high tribunal basically agreed that proper process has never occurred in Logan circuit court. Despite labeling a November 19, 2015 order as the “final order” in the matter, the supreme court says the local court held no hearings to determine the proper disposition of the case.
Therefore, the court concludes that any action by them would not be “appellate” in nature since there is no genuine final order from circuit court. The supreme court order strongly recommends that the matter be looked into and hearings held by circuit court prior to any other decisions being made.
It does appear, however, that at least a portion of Brown’s attorney fees were paid.
The order says Corporal F.N. Ferrell was assigned to conduct the investigation into Brown’s conduct. Despite a lengthy delay, Corporal Mayes did finally meet with and question Brown, who was required to be at home each day while being paid. Nevertheless, the order from the sheriff said Brown could not act or perform services as a deputy while the investigation was on-going. Porter assumed responsibility for the case when she became Sheriff on January 1, 2013. She subsequently terminated Brown in December 2016 and delivered a list of charges against him.
The supreme court order concludes, “Based upon the foregoing, we find that the circuit court order of November 19, 2015, is not a final order constituting an adjudication of the merits. Accordingly, we find that the petition for appeal was improvidently docketed, and we order this matter be, and it hereby is, dismissed and stricken from the docket of this Court and remanded to the Circuit Court of Logan County, West Virginia, for further proceedings as the parties and the circuit court deem necessary and appropriate.”