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Heaster v. Robinson

Supreme Court of West Virginia

May 14, 2018

CHARLES PATRICK HEASTER, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS REPRESENTATIVE OF THE 100 QUALIFIED PETITIONERS, Petitioner
v.
GREGORY L. ROBINSON, Respondent

          Doddridge County No. 16-C-57

          MEMORANDUM DECISION

         The petitioner herein, and petitioner below, Charles Patrick Heaster, individually and as representative of the 100 qualified petitioners, appeals the May 23, 2017, final order of the Circuit Court of Doddridge County dismissing the petition to remove the respondent herein and respondent below, Gregory L. Robinson, from his office of

         Doddridge County Commissioner.[1]

         Upon our thorough and considered review of the parties' arguments, the appendix record, and the pertinent authorities, we find that the circuit court committed no error in granting judgment as a matter of law to the respondent. Consequently, we affirm the circuit court's May 23, 2017, order. Because this case does not present a new or substantial question of law, and for the reasons set forth herein, we find the issuance of a memorandum decision is appropriate pursuant to Rule 21(c) of the West Virginia Rules of Appellate Procedure.

         In November 2016, 100 citizens of Doddridge County signed a petition, pursuant to West Virginia Code § 6-6-7 (2016), to remove the respondent, Gregory L. Robinson, from his office as an elected commissioner of the County Commission of Doddridge County.[2] The petition alleged that Mr. Robinson had committed official misconduct by the following actions:

[C]ircumventing a lawful action of the Doddridge County Commission on April 19, 2016. On that date the County Commission voted to donate $50, 000.00 to the Doddridge County EMS. Following the meeting, [Mr. Robinson] without official authority and against the laws of the State of West Virginia directed the Clerk to stop payment on the check.
[Mr. Robinson] has and continues to attend meetings of the Doddridge County Ambulance Authority interjecting himself into the deliberative and decision making process of that body in violation of the laws of the State of West Virginia including, but not limited to, wrongfully removing duly appointed Board Members. Such conduct is official misconduct.
[Mr. Robinson] has permitted, encouraged and directed the wrongful and wasteful expenditure of moneys belonging to the citizens of Doddridge County for the benefit of citizens of other West Virginia Counties by continuing to support the deficit spending and operation of the Doddridge County Ambulance Authority which is neglect of his duty as a County Commissioner.
[Mr. Robinson] has encouraged, directed and participated in the purchase with county funds of equipment without competitive bid in violation of West Virginia law.

         The Circuit Court of Doddridge County forwarded to the Chief Justice of this Court a copy of the petition and a request to impanel and convene a three-judge court in accordance with the provisions of West Virginia Code § 6-6-7(g) (2016).[3] By administrative order dated November 29, 2016, the Chief Justice appointed three circuit judges to sit on the three-judge panel.

         The three-judge panel held an evidentiary hearing on April 18, 2017, at which the petitioner presented the testimony of County Clerk Beth A. Rogers and Robert Beamer, who was a member of the Doddridge County Ambulance Authority ("DCAA") Board of Directors until the County Commission voted to remove him. The petitioner also placed various documents into evidence.

         Following the petitioner's presentation of evidence, the respondent moved for judgment as a matter of law, which was granted by the panel. On May 23, 2017, the panel entered its final order in which it found that while it is undisputed that the respondent ordered a stop payment of the $50, 000 check to the Doddridge County Emergency Squad, Inc. ("DCEMS"), a non-profit corporation, "the totality of the evidence presented inexorably fails to prove that the actions of Commissioner Robinson in this respect were willful, unlawful or otherwise constitute[d] official misconduct . . . as a matter of law."

         Regarding the testimony of County Clerk Rogers, the panel observed that it was "factually sparse in nature." The circuit court further indicated that

[w]ith respect to the exhibits that were admitted without objection, the Court finds that collectively, they are at best a muddled assortment of meeting agendas and minutes that while they represent actions taken by the Commission as a whole, fail in all respects to establish a prima facie case of willful or unlawful official misconduct on the part of Commissioner Robinson.

         The panel similarly found little value in Mr. Beamer's testimony noting that

[w]hile petitioners want this Court to accept the testimony of Mr. Beamer without pause, such cannot be done. Mr. Beamer was forthright in his animosity towards Commissioner Robinson, including his steadfast belief that he was responsible for his removal from the DCAA Board of Directors. Notwithstanding the testimony of Mr. Beamer, the petitioners produced no other evidence to support these charges. Namely, noticeably absent from the record is testimony of other DCAA Board members to corroborate Mr. Beamer's testimony; minutes or other credible documentation from proceedings of the DCAA Board of Directors to [sic] may have assisted in establishing official misconduct as charged on the part of Commissioner Robinson.

         Moreover, the panel considered significant the fact that several of the respondent's alleged wrongful actions were taken as a member of the majority of the county commission ...


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