Pocahontas Magistrate Defends Prosecuting Attorney
Marlinton, WV – Pocahontas Magistrate Janet Kershner-Vanover is speaking out in defense of embattled Pocahontas County Prosecuting Attorney Donna Meadows Price. In the January 5th addition of the Pocahontas Times, an article described an almost 60 page report from the Lawyer Disciplinary Board charging Price with violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct. Among other things, Price is charged with failure of competence and diligence, failure to expedite litigation, and misconduct. But Kershner-Vanover, who has also seen the report, sees it in a different light.
“A lot of pettiness, a lot of misconceptions,” she says. “In 2009 when we started, and when I say we’ I mean the Sheriff started, Donna started and I started; you know she came into office with everything being wide open. We did twice the cases in 2009 that we had in 2008. She came into office without furniture, the computers were not working and the files were jumbled; so it took a while to get that office together, so she started out behind.”
She says one of the cases cited in the report and in the article is one that she handled herself. In this particular case, Price is accused of deliberately switching Magistrates, supposedly because she believed the defendant would not get a fair hearing with Magistrate Kathy Beverage. Kershner-Vanover explains.
“At the time the Prosecutor and the defense attorney who was a lawyer from Lewisburg came into the office, he had been here for family court,” says Kershner-Vanover. “They had already discussed the case and wanted to take care of it while he was up here, so he wouldn’t have to make another trip. We tried to reach Magistrate Beverage at Durbin [Magistrate court office], she was not there; and I tried 9-1-1, and tried her home, didn’t reach her there.”
“Finally I talked to the [Magistrate] clerk and she let me know that Magistrate Beverage was not working due to illness or something to that affect.”
Now here is where Kershner-Vanover’s account differs with that cited in the report.
“When I tried to call the [Circuit Court] judges to see if could be allowed to go ahead and do the case, Judge Rowe was not available; Judge Pomponio was in Florida on a medical emergency,” she says. “I didn’t feel it was that big of a case to have to call him at a hospital to get the okay to accept a speeding violation. When in the past we had a similar situation, and I had reached Judge Rowe and Judge Rowe said handle it and make notes, so that’s what I did.”
But the article cites Judge Rowe as saying that he denied the defendant’s request to change Magistrates in the case.
“She did not purposely come down looking to take care of it without Magistrate Beverage because she doesn’t even get a list of who’s on call,” says Kershner -Vanover, referring to Price. “She does now, but at the time she did not. That’s one of the complaints that’s being written up; I think it was made into something a lot more than what it was.”
Kershner-Vanover says when she took office she signed a form allowing Magistrate Beverage to hear one of her cases if she is unavailable for any reason. She says Magistrate Beverage has not signed such a form.
She also says getting police reports from Sheriff’s deputies in a timely manner has also been a problem at times, perhaps because she says some deputies may be reluctant to acknowledge Price as the chief law enforcement officer in the county.
Kershner-Vanover could not speak directly to complaints about how Price has handled cases involving juveniles, but she cites ongoing problems with Child Protective Services or CPS.
“We had a couple who were fighting, and both of them were making allegations, and the officer that was here called the CPS worker who was on call and was told give them to a competent adult,” she says. “So we’ve had problems getting help in Pocahontas County and a lot of times someone from another county is on call.”
Kershner-Vanover says despite the complaints, she feels that Price is doing a good job.
“Yeah, I do,” she says. “I’ve worked with her in court; we’ve handled 18 to 20 cases in a day, and I do pretrials so they’re not as lengthy as trials. But if you can get that much work done in a day and have it done smoothly, that helps.”