CHARLESTON – Former Lincoln County Assessor Jerry Weaver forfeited his pension by conspiring to buy votes, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals decided Oct. 10.
The Justices relied on state law declaring that "honorable service is a condition to receiving any pension, annuity, disability or any other benefit under a retirement plan."
Weaver pleaded guilty to a felony conspiracy charge in federal court in 2005.
He claimed that he deserved a pension anyway because he committed the crime as a private citizen, not as a public official.
The Justices couldn't follow his logic.
"This crime is inextricably connected to and associated with Mr. Weaver's office," Justice Robin Davis wrote.
The vote buying conspiracy corrupted eight elections from 1990 to 2004, she wrote.
"In four of those elections, Mr. Weaver was a candidate for the office of assessor and won re-election," she wrote.
She wrote that "it is unfathomable that he could completely separate himself from and entirely ignore the information as to the inner workings of Lincoln County politics he had gained in this capacity while he pursued his criminal activity."
County voters first picked Weaver as assessor in 1980.
Federal prosecutors charged him with conspiracy in 2005.
Federal jurisdiction applied because all the elections included candidates for the U. S. House of Representatives and some included candidates for president.
Weaver pleaded guilty on Dec. 27, 2005, and resigned on Jan. 1, 2006.
A federal judge sentenced him to 12 months in prison and fined him $2,000.
He applied for Public Employee Retirement System benefits and began receiving $2,020.79 a month.
In September 2006, the West Virginia Consolidated Public Retirement Board notified him that he rendered "less than honorable service" and was no longer eligible.
Weaver asked for judicial review, and the retirement board filed a termination petition in Kanawha County Circuit Court.
Circuit Judge James Stucky ruled in July 2007 that Weaver forfeited his pension.
Stucky wrote that "public service, compensated at public expense, is a public trust and necessarily implies faithful service."
Weaver's conviction related to his official position, Stucky wrote.
"He was convicted of corrupting many of the elections which triggered his eligibility and allowed for his continued participation in the public funded pension system," Stucky wrote.
He ordered the board to refund Weaver's pension contributions to him with interest. The board sent Weaver a check for $24,844.29.
Weaver appealed, and all five justices affirmed Stucky's decision.
Davis quoted a 1990 decision that "a public officer's or public employee's service must be honorable at all times, and if not, there is a total forfeiture of the public pension."
She quoted a 1995 decision that "the requirement of honorable service has been established in advance and has been made an explicit part of the entire bargain."
Jeaneen Legato represented the retirement board.
Leah Perry Macia, Stephanie Ojeda, Eric Kinder and Randal Whitlatch, all of Spilman Thomas and Battle in Charleston, represented Weaver.