MINGO COUNTY, WV (LOOTPRESS) – As expected, the Mingo County Commission’s primary response to Ernest Sammons’ request for a Writ of Prohibition centers on the argument that the situation is “moot.”
Attorneys J. Zak Ritchie and Ryan McCune Donovan of Charleston responded Monday to Sammons’ Writ motion, which was filed by former Kanawha County Prosecutor Mike Clifford. Ritchie and Donovan, of the Hissam, Forman, Donovan, Ritchie law firm represent Mingo Commissioners Diann Hannah and Thomas Taylor.
The appointment of a replacement for the late Gavin Smith, who tragically passed away in May, is at issue in the case.
Sammons was one of nine applicants to replace Smith. That list included Smith’s widow, Audrey, who was a registered independent at the time of his death.
Both sides agree that state law 3-10-7(a) sets the first step in the replacement process as an attempt by the sitting commissioners to agree on a replacement. The two were given 30 days to agree but they could not.
It is with the next step that confusion and disagreement arose. All parties agreed that 3-10-7(a) requires the Commission to choose only a member of the political party of the member who created the vacancy. In this case, Smith was a Republican.
In fact, if commissioners had managed to agree on a replacement during the 30-day window, all parties agree that person would have had to have been registered Republican like Gavin Smith on the day he passed and for at least 60 days prior to that.
As noted, Audrey Smith was a registered independent voter when her husband passed.
But some officials, led by Taylor, argued that the next step in the process — convening the county Republican Executive Committee to suggest three replacements — did not specifically require the same party registration.
This led to a heated debate with the county committee eventually recommending three replacements that included Audrey Smith. The other two — Martin Fortner and Chadwick Hatfield — had been Republicans for some time.
Sammons filed his motion for a Writ to stop the commission from choosing a replacement on the same day commissioners had scheduled a special meeting to select from the three names.
Despite knowing of the filing, Commission attorney Tom Ward advised the Commission to move forward with the appointment, which they did. Under the same state law, that step in the process required the longest-serving commissioner (Hannah) to eliminate one of the recommendations followed by the shortest-serving (Taylor) eliminating a second.
Using that procedure, Hannah eliminated Audrey Smith and Taylor struck Hatfield, leaving Fortner as the appointee.
As pointed out in the response, Fortner has already been sworn in and is participating in meetings as a commissioner.
They also point out that, since Sammons did not dispute Fortner’s qualifications in his Writ motion, there is no real issue to argue since Audrey Smith was not chosen as the new commissioner.
Further, the Commissioners argue that the Writ fails to name the Mingo GOP Committee as a party, despite the motion centering on that committee’s naming of Audrey Smith to their list of recommendations.
The commission response asks that the Writ motion be dismissed and no further action be taken by the court.
The court will consider the arguments and issue a decision shortly.
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Whew! If any reader fully understood my explanation of what’s going on in this case, you should earn a prize.
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Labor Day Monday is set for the annual union picnic at John Slack Park in Racine. This year’s event is titled, “West Virginia for the Blair Mountain Centennial Finale and Labor Day Celebration.”
The event is scheduled from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and always includes great food and children’s activities.
United Mine Workers of America International President Cecil E. Roberts will be the keynote speaker. There will be musical performances from Tom Breiding, Buddy Grimmitt and Ralph Stanley II and the Clinch Mountain Boys.
Since it’s not an election year, attendance is usually smaller which gives those who have never attended an excellent opportunity to mix-and-mingle with both Democrats and Republicans.