WV Civil Rights Lawyer

Police Misconduct, Civil Rights Law

The “Kramer Rule” to affect West Virginia jury trials?

There was a story that I saw yesterday in the Register-Herald titled “Berkeley delegate wants judges’ donations disclosed in trials.”  Apparently, as per a bill introduced by Delegate Jonathan Miller, “[b]efore the first shred of evidence is put before a jury, members would know how much — if anything — opposing attorneys dumped into the presiding judge’s campaign chest.”

What I want to get is disclosing contributions to sitting judges from attorneys, first and foremost,” Miller, R-Berkeley, said Monday. “They are very involved in these lower races, circuit judges and family court. And I want disclosure to be compelled.”

Miller is labeling his proposal the “Jim Kramer Rule,” named after the investment guru, who, under Securities Exchange Commission rules, must disclose his personal holdings before pitching any stock.

The proposed legislation purportedly would not apply to criminal cases – not that it would be constitutional anyways….  This legislation begs the question: what in the heck is the point of doing this?  The reason that we have a jury in civil trials in West Virginia, is to decide contested issues of fact.  Of course the lawyers always believe that the trial judge favors and/or helps one side or the other somewhat during the trial.  But from the point of view of the jury, the judge is supposed to be neutral, and is only assisting them in doing their job.  In fact, the judge will instruct them not to try and speculate as to what he thinks about the case.  To instruct the jury from the beginning on which lawyer contributed campaign donations would confuse the jury from the start, and would possibly cause prejudice to an innocent party.  The lawyer is only representing the client.  Now if the client has some sort of improper connection with the judge, that could be different, in which case there already exists a procedure for the recusal of a judge if there exists a conflict.

Regardless, there’s no way this legislation, if passed, would get through the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals – all of whom are judges who arrived where they are, in part, through campaign contributions.

 – John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.


March 12, 2009 Posted by | Elections, Evidence, Judges, Trials | Leave a comment

This blog quoted in yet another newspaper…

Just by chance, I glanced at Summers County’s the Hinton News, which I receive via mail once a week, and saw a rather long letter to the editor, attacking one candidate for Sheriff and promoting another. That’s not too unusual this time of year, but I noticed the last paragraph contained a quote from myself, as posted here back in February.

I would just like to note that I was making a broader point about small West Virginia counties and the elected position of Sheriff generally with regards to experience and origin, and I was not, nor currently am, supporting any particular candidate. Although I was saying something favorable towards this particular candidate, I was not contrasting this with the current opposition candidate, because at the time there were numerous other candidates running for the party nomination.

Of course, I don’t know that either candidate really wants the support of a criminal defense attorney anyways….

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney

October 15, 2008 Posted by | Elections | Leave a comment

Breaking News: candidates for Kanawha County Prosecuting Attorney Want to Reduce Dismissals

This breaking news was reported in the Charleston Daily Mail today. Reportedly, both candidates for Kanawha County Prosecuting Attorney want to reduce the number of dismissals in their county due to West Virginia’s one-year-out-from-indictment-and-the-case-is-dismissed rule. As they say, shoot for the stars….

Geez, I’ve got to start taking more cases in Kanawha County.

There are lots of excuses for this, such as too many cases and too little funding. However, as Rudyard Kipling said, “there are forty million reasons for failure, but not a single excuse.” Having worked as a prosecutor in an office that had a caseload that was many times larger than Kanawha County’s, I can’t remember one case ever getting dismissed based solely on neglect. Heck, we sometimes went through a thousand cases a day. I guess that if you wanted to set up a system that couldn’t manage the caseload, you could do it. And apparently Kanawha County has done it. The tough part is making it work. But that should be the status quo, not some great achievement.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney

September 18, 2008 Posted by | Elections, Prosecutors | Leave a comment

Monroe County Prosecutor Resigns, Successor To Be Appointed

From the Register-Herald today:

Monroe County prosecutor Rod Mohler has resigned in order to take a position as an assistant prosecutor in Greenbrier County. When that happens, it is up to the county commission to appoint a successor. It looks like the prosecutor-elect, Justin St. Clair, will be appointed by the Monroe County Commission at a special meeting today.

Justin is a very capable attorney and I’m sure will serve Monroe County with the utmost integrity and effort.

You can read the full article here.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.

May 29, 2008 Posted by | Elections, Prosecutors | Leave a comment

Some Surprising Results in Greenbrier, Monroe County and Summers County Primary Elections

In Greenbrier County:

For Prosecuting Attorney, incumbent Kevin Hanson lost big, and at the top of the Democratic ticket for the general election will be Martha Fleshman, who was a complete dark horse in the race. According to the Register-Herald article linked below, she spent only about $1,400 on the race — not including the $992 filing fee. She will face fellow attorney Pat Via, who by the way is an all-around good guy.

For Circuit Judge, incumbent Judge Pomponio emerged victorious over Lewisburg attorney Steve Hunter. He will face Lewisburg attorney (and State Senator) Jesse Guills in the general election.

See the Greenbrier County results here.

UPDATE: The Register-Herald published an article Thursday regarding the county prosecutor race in Greenbrier County, which you can read here.

In Monroe County:

For Prosecuting Attorney, incumbent H. Rod Mohler also lost big – to challenger Justin St. Clair who is a Monroe County Attorney and also an all-around good guy. This was a big race because Rod Mohler had been Prosecuting Attorney for 12 years, and he is also a really nice guy with a lot of support. Justin had been positioning himself to run for the last four years and his hard work paid off.

For Circuit Judge:

Judge Robert Irons narrowly won by about 200 votes. This was a difficult race because it pitted Monroe County voters against Summers County voters, each voting a majority for their resident candidate. I believe the voters made a wise decision as Judge Irons has served the 31st judicial circuit well since he has held office.

See the Monroe County results here.

In Summers County:

For Prosecuting Attorney, incumbent Amy L. Mann, pulled out a major victory over challenger Jason Parmer, grabbing 2,277 votes over Parmer’s 1,280. This race had gotten nasty in the final weeks leading up to the election, and apparently that didn’t play well with the voters of Summers County. In my opinion, the most important quality of a good prosecutor is sympathy and compassion. Not all persons charged with a crime deserve life in prison. Most are generally good people, and most will be back out on the streets before long. A prosecutor who will treat defendants as they themselves would want to be treated, can clean-up the streets much faster than a “lock-em-up-throw-away-the-key” prosecutor. Amy is a compassionate person, and she uses her discretion wisely. But she also knows when to fire both barrels – trust me.

See the Summers County results here.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.

May 14, 2008 Posted by | Elections, Judges, Lawyers, Prosecutors | Leave a comment

Braxton County Magistrate Convicted After Jury Trial

From the Charleston Gazette:

A jury found a Braxton County magistrate who is up for re-election next week guilty of attempted retaliation against a state witness Wednesday.

Prosecutors charged Carolyn Cruickshanks with conspiring to retaliate against Philip Dailey, who testified against her son, Jordan Grubb, in a drug case.

Cruickshanks reportedly delivered a copy of Philip Dailey’s plea agreement and a transcript of his plea hearing to the jail, where Grubb hoped other inmates would punish Dailey for being a snitch.

It always amazes me that these small-town political conspiracies involving corrupt public officials actually take place in West Virginia. Then, the corrupt official still runs for office as they are on trial…. Unbelievable.

Read the full two-page article here.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.

May 8, 2008 Posted by | Conspiracy, Corruption, Elections, Judges, Judicial Misconduct, Juries | Leave a comment

Nicholas County Prosecuting Attorney Charged With DUI


From the Charleston Gazette today:

Nicholas County’s prosecuting attorney was charged with DUI on Sunday after wrecking his car in a single vehicle accident in Webster County. Mark Hudnall was elected Nicholas County prosecutor in 2004 by a narrow margin over James “P.K.” Milam. He is running for re-election this year, and faces Milam and Keith W. McMillion in the Democratic primary next month.

What a poor decision to make generally, but on the eve of an election? Being the elected prosecutor of a county, and charged with the duty to prosecute individuals for violations of the law, including DUI, he ought to make a public comment in the next day or so – either apologizing or proclaiming his absolute innocence (in which case it better be the truth). In any event, what a lucky break for his Democratic opponent.

Read the full article here.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.

April 29, 2008 Posted by | DUI, Elections, Prosecutors, Vehicular Crimes | 1 Comment

Irons Seeks Third Term as Circuit Judge

From the Beckley Register-Herald:

Note: As an attorney who has often practiced before Judge Irons, I can vouch that he is a fair and impartial judge and deserves the support of both Monroe and Summers Counties.

Irons seeks third term as circuit judge

Judge Robert A. Irons is seeking a third term as circuit judge for Summers and Monroe counties.

A 16-year veteran of the bench, Irons was elected as the first judge of the 31st Circuit in 1992 and re-elected in 2000. Prior to becoming circuit judge, he practiced law for 12 years, serving a broad range of clients and types of cases, and also served as prosecuting attorney for eight years.

“I deeply appreciate the trust the people of Summers and Monroe counties have shown in me,” Irons said. “It has been an honor to serve as circuit judge and I have done my utmost to be worthy of that trust. For the past 16 years, I have made every effort to be approachable and responsive to all residents of the 31st Circuit, and to treat everyone who comes into the courtroom in a fair and impartial manner. It is gratifying and humbling that so many people have come forward in recent weeks to offer their support in the upcoming primary.”

Irons is a graduate of Union High School and Marshall University, and received his law degree from Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va. He has attended many specialized judicial training courses at the National Judicial College, and has completed several hundred hours of continuing judicial education through programs conducted by the state Supreme Court.

Irons is currently working with the Summers County Commission to establish a community corrections program as an alternative to incarceration. He said he is excited about this program, which he hopes will both help reduce jail costs and be a productive way to help individuals recover from substance addictions. He hopes to begin a similar program in Monroe County in the near future.

A Monroe County native and lifelong Democrat, Irons is a member of the Hinton Rotary Club and a Paul Harris Fellow. He is also secretary of the Bluegrass Ruritan Club and lieutenant zone governor for Ruritan Zone 1. He has been active in Bluegrass Ruritan (of which his father was a founding member) since 1980, serving as an officer on several occasions, including two terms as club president, and was 2007 zone governor for Ruritan Zone 1.

February 29, 2008 Posted by | Elections, Judges | Leave a comment

Former NJ Detective Running For Sheriff of Summers County

From today’s Register-Herald:

Former detective seeks Summers County sheriff post

Edward Dolphin is seeking the Republican nomination for sheriff of Summers County.

Dolphin is retired from the Evesham Township (N.J.). Police Department with 25 years of service. During his service, he served as a detective first class, a patrol division supervisor and a motor vehicle accident investigator.

He also created and supervised the juvenile bureau, investigating juvenile crime and working within Evesham Township and Lenape high school districts.

He also worked with the Adopt-A-Cop Program placing officers within the school system.

During his service he received numerous commendations.

Dolphin served in the U.S. Navy and is a Vietnam veteran. He was also a member of U.S. Navy helicopter squadron HS75 from 1980-1982 serving as an air/sea rescue crewman and sonar operator.

He also served as a Military Police sergeant with the N.J. National Guard prior to Desert Storm.

He is a 1980 graduate of Camden County College, Blackwood, N.J., graduating with a degree in law enforcement and administration, Associate in Science degree in criminal justice.

He was also recognized for scholastic achievement by being placed on the permanent Deans list.

He is a current member of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 56.

Dolphin says he believes he is well qualified to perform the duties of sheriff of Summers County.

He wants to provide the citizens of Summers County with experienced quality law enforcement and administration.

He feels the changing demographic situation in Summers County requires an administrator who can maintain the public trust and perform these duties on a professional level.

He is confident he can perform these duties and looks forward to working for the citizens of Summers County.

Dolphin is of the Methodist faith and he and his wife Judi attend church within the Talcott charge of the Summers County Parish. They are both members of The Burlington Center Auxiliary in Beckley.

They enjoy working with the Talcott “After School Program” sponsored by Trinity United Methodist Church of Talcott.

Note: Sometimes it is a good idea to place an outsider as Sheriff of a small county, especially one where law enforcement is distrusted. I always feel good about someone with years of professional service in law enforcement being elected Sheriff. A problem that you have in small West Virginia counties is that anyone can run for Sheriff. So, any local with a popular last name could become the person charged with protecting your family from harm. More importantly, if that person has ulterior motives, as many people do, it could lead to a disaster, in terms of corruption and the hijacking of the criminal justice system. Regardless, the people of Summers County have an honest prosecutor in Amy Mann and can take some comfort in her discretion in whether or not to prosecute particular cases. However, the other side of the coin is the Sheriff’s Department. People should think about these issues carefully before placing their votes. – John H. Bryan, West Virginia criminal defense attorney.

February 7, 2008 Posted by | Elections, Police, Prosecutors | 4 Comments

More Greenbrier Valley Lawyers Enter Political Races

Lewisburg Attorney Barry Bruce, of the law firm of Barry L. Bruce & Associates, L.C. – also my former employer – is running for Circuit Judge:

From the Beckley Register-Herald:

Barry L. Bruce has announced his candidacy for judge of the 11th Circuit Court, Division 2.

Bruce says he is excited with the opportunity to become a candidate for circuit judge and believes his 30-plus years of experience in litigation and general practice of law qualify him for a position as judge. He is committed to the principles of fairness, respect and following the rule of law to all people involved in the legal system.

Bruce is a 1969 graduate of West Virginia University with a B.S. in business. He pursued an MBA degree at Loyola University in Chicago, and graduated from University of Dayton School of Law in May 1977.

He is licensed to practice law in Ohio and West Virginia. He is admitted to the practice of law in the United States Supreme Court; United States Court of Appeals, 4th Circuit; West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals; and Supreme Court of Ohio. He opened his law practice in Lewisburg in October 1990; he has practiced in Greenbrier, Pocahontas and surrounding counties since that time.

In 2005 he was named Businessman of the Year by the Business Advisory Council, National Republican Committee.

Before moving with his family to Lewisburg, he lived in Huntington and Beckley and now resides in Ronceverte with his wife, Jane. He is the father of four children, Aaron Bruce of Roanoke, Va., Adam Bruce, U.S. Navy, Oak Harbor, Wash., Sarah Bruce of Greensboro, N.C., and Becky Hayman of Wilmington, Del.

Also running for office is Jim McNeely, the former Prosecuting Attorney for Summers County – against whom I just tried a murder case in December of 2007, more information for which can be found here. Jim is running for State Senate as a Democrat, attempting to fill the seat being vacated by current State Senator Jesse Guills – another lawyer – who is running for Circuit Judge in Greenbrier County, more information for which can be found here.

From the Beckley Register-Herald:

Monroe County man announces his candidacy for state Senate

James W. “Jim” McNeely has announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for the state Senate, 10th District.

McNeely, 61, has lived in Monroe County since 1994, first in Greenville and more recently in Peterstown. He lived in Mercer County from childhood until 1994, with the exception of time spent in the military, in school or working for the state Supreme Court.

He is a 1964 graduate of Bluefield High School and a 1973 graduate of Concord University (B.S. in education). He was president of the Concord Alumni Association for three terms (1989-92), was one of those walking the entire “Quest For Scholars” in 1987 and was the 1992 Alumni of the Year. He is also a 1981 graduate of Virginia Tech (M.A., political science public administration) and received a law degree from WVU in 1986, graduating in the top 10 percent of his class and being invited to join the West Virginia Law Review.

McNeely retired in 2007 at age 60 as prosecuting attorney of Summers County after being elected in 2000 and re-elected in 2004, and continues to practice law on a limited basis. He has worked as a West Virginia attorney for more than 20 years, practicing in federal/state courts and in administrative law. Operating his own independent practice, he has represented individuals, corporations, local governments, unions, churches and community groups.

Before receiving his law degree, McNeely was an elementary school teacher and a community development director and city police judge for Princeton.

McNeely has considerable legislative experience. He was first elected to the West Virginia House of Delegates in 1974, at the age of 27, and was elected to four terms in the House during the 1970s and ’80s to represent, at various times, Mercer, Summers, Monroe and part of Wyoming counties in the former 19th and 20th districts. His committee assignments included Judiciary and Education, and he served as the chairman of the Higher Education Subcommittee of the House Education Committee.

In the military, he served as an artillery officer in Vietnam in 1969, and serv-ed in the West Virginia National Guard through the early 1980s. He served as commander of the Hinton/ Ronceverte guard unit in the late ’70s and early ’80s.

Considering himself a well-qualified candidate with a wide range of experience in the military, in the private sector and in all branches and levels of government, McNeely says he will bring that wealth of knowledge and experience to the Senate.

February 4, 2008 Posted by | Elections, Judges, Lawyers | Leave a comment