Pocahontas prosecutor asks commission for help with legal bills
Marlinton, W.Va. – During Tuesday afternoon’s Pocahontas County Commission meeting, prosecuting attorney Donna Meadows Price asked the commission about payment of legal bills for her defense to charges filed by the West Virginia Lawyer Disciplinary Board.
In January 2012, the Board charged Price with violations of professional conduct, including instances of incompetence, unfairness and misconduct. The charges arose from complaints by Circuit Court judges Joseph Pomponio and James Rowe, Sheriff David Jonese, the Department of Health and Human Resources, the Child Youth Advocacy Center and other law enforcement officers.
Price tells the commission the charges against her are retaliation for her starting an investigation into Sheriff’s Department officer Brad Totten.
“Let’s put it all in perspective,” she said. “August 4th of 2011, I wrote a letter to the West Virginia State Police, asking for an investigation into improprieties over a particular law enforcement officer with the Pocahontas County Sheriff’s Department. Mid-September – I get served with this complaint. A little bit of whistle-blowing activity going on there, if you ask me.”
“But I find the dates ironic,” she added. “To ask them for an investigation. Getting served with a statement of charges. It’s obvious to see that it’s retaliation, but I’m doing nothing but fight it.”
Price’s August 2011 letter to the West Virginia State Police resulted in an investigation and 59 grand jury indictments against Totten – all alleged sex crimes.
Price tells commissioners she took over a prosecutor’s office in complete disarray.
“I can walk down the hall right now and bring you photographs of that office the day I walked in,” she said. “Bags and bags and bags of shredded documents. Piles and piles of shredded papers on the floor that I had to sweep up.”
The prosecutor says the computer system in her office was intentionally sabotaged.
“It took me two IT specialists to figure out what happened,” she said. “The pathway to my network was disconnected or severed. You would understand that. It took me a little while to understand that. That’s not accidental keystrokes. That was done on purpose. I started in behind the eight-ball. I come into an office that was in total disarray. No case tracking organization.”
Price tells the commission county law enforcement has expanded while the prosecutor’s office has not.
“There’s more law enforcement on the ground in this county, right now, than has ever been in its history,” she said. “My office has stayed the same. So, therefore yes, I was at a disadvantage.”
Price has accrued a legal bill approaching $20,000 for her defense.
The prosecutor tells Commissioner David Fleming the bill could be higher.
“They did not bill what they could have,” she said. “They did not bill at rates that they could have. They have worked with me throughout this entire process.”
“So, you’re saying that amount is a good deal?” Fleming asked.
“Yes, that is an excessively good deal,” Price said. “They took it because it was of great interest to them and they had never seen anything the likes of which.”
Commissioner Jamie Walker says the commission should pay if Price is found not guilty of the disciplinary board’s charges.
“From the different counties I’ve talked to – I’ve talked to three different people about it and they interpreted it to me, that if it was deliberately and intentionally done, by any elected official, and they was found guilty, they was responsible for paying their own way, ” he said. “If they was found innocent and the charges was false, then the county would step up and pay the bill at that point. And I can kind of tend to agree with that.”
The Lawyer Disciplinary Board has scheduled hearings in the case against Price for October 15-17 in Charleston. Commissioners Fleming and Walker agreed to await the outcome of those hearings to take further action on payment of Price’s legal expenses. Commissioner Martin Saffer was not present.