Ronald F. Stein Jr. recently was appointed to replace James Casey as Point Pleasant's city attorney. (Photo by Lawrence Smith)

POINT PLEASANT –Included in the first official acts of the new city council was appointment of a city attorney, and elimination of the municipal judge.

With little fanfare, other than taking an oath of office, Ronald F. Stein Jr. was appointed unanimously at the July 9 council meeting to lend legal advice to the city of Point Pleasant. A solo practitioner, Stein replaces James Casey as city attorney.

The replacement came as little surprise as Republicans swept the May municipal election. In addition to the mayor and city clerk, the GOP won nine of the 10 council seats up for grabs.

The only seat they didn't win was the 4th Ward. At its March caucus, the party decided not to field a candidate against incumbent councilman Bill Park, a local physician.

In addition to having his own law practice and serving as city attorney, Casey is chairman of the Mason County Democratic Party, and a member of the party's state executive committee. Also, he is a lobbyist for the West Virginia Association for Justice, formerly known as the West Virginia Trial Lawyers Association.

His participation with the latter rankled many council members, including some in his own party like former 8th Ward Councilwoman Carole A. Jones, as he was often absent from council meetings when the Legislature was in session. Though she admitted that politics played a role, McDaniel, noting the four years she worked with Casey while she was city clerk, said replacing Stein with Casey was not mean-spirited.

"I thought we needed a change," McDaniel said.

In addition to appointing a new city attorney, the council also voted unanimously to eliminate the position of municipal judge. The former judge, Jeremy Vickers, also doubled as the assistant city attorney.

Given the city's finances, McDaniel said elimination of the position is one of the ways the new administration is trying to save money.

As provided by state code, McDaniel said after she takes a class she will begin hearing cases as the city's new municipal judge.

Like with Casey, McDaniel said the decision to replace them was not personal.

"Instead of informing them via a letter, I called them, invited them over to my home and told them privately of my decision," McDaniel said.

Looking forward to serving

A Mason County native, Stein, 32, said he's looking forward to serving as city attorney for the next five years. In the May election, voters approved a change to the city charter to give the new council a one-time five-year term so as to realign the next municipal election with the state primary in 2012.

"I don't really look at this as a stepping stone in my career," Stein said. "I look at it as an opportunity to serve the people of the community where I grew up."

A 2001 graduate of the West Virginia University School of Law, Stein clerked for Mason Circuit Judge David W. Nibert for two years, before he was admitted to the bar. Though like most small town attorneys who have to be a jack-of-all-trades in the area of law, Stein says his appointment as city attorney notwithstanding, he's finding a niche for his legal services.

"The list of what I don't do is longer than what I do do," he said.
That don't-do list includes two areas which many attorneys have found profitable – bankruptcy and workers' compensation.

"I don't know anything about them," Stein said.

Becoming an attorney, Stein said, was almost a forgone conclusion as he "grew up with it." His father, Ronald F. Stein Sr. was an attorney until his death in 1995.

The decision to tap him as the city attorney from the available pool in Mason County, McDaniel said, was based on a long talk she had with him. After meeting with him in his office where they "talked and talked and talked" about many issues, she said she felt a connection with him.

"Have you ever had a feeling it's right?" McDaniel queried. "That's the way I felt."

For his services to the city, McDaniel said Stein will receive the same rate of pay Casey received. According to records she provided, he was paid $14,423 last fiscal year.

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