CHARLESTON – The fact that a colleague made more than $100,000 last fiscal year doesn't seem to bother some of the other Kanawha County mental hygiene commissioners.
In fact, until told, the commissioners who spoke with The Record were unaware of it.
"I'm not familiar with what other people are making," said James H. "Jim" Crewdson, the commissioner with the most seniority. "We don't worry about other guys. We just worry about our time."
According to records provided by the state Supreme Court, Theodore R. "Ted" Dues was the highest paid mental hygiene commissioner in West Virginia in fiscal year 2005-06.
The $113,103.25 he made was 2.5 times more than the second highest paid commissioner –- Russell B. Stobbs from Lewis County ($45, 526) -– and four times more than Crewdson ($25,649), the 10th highest paid commissioner.
In West Virginia, mental hygiene commissioners hear cases of those deemed to be a danger to themselves or others as a result of mental illness or addiction. The chief judge of the judicial circuit appoints them annually.
However, on Dec. 19, 2005, the Court restricted Dues' ability to practice law to mental hygiene cases. The decision stemmed from an 11-point statement of charges filed against Dues by the Lawyer Disciplinary Board, the prosecutorial arm of the state Bar Association, on March 1, 2004.
Citing 39 violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct, the Board recommended Dues make restitution to some the clients named in the statement, and his license be suspended for 18 months (Lawyer Disciplinary Board v. Theodore R. Dues, Jr., a member of the West Virginia State Bar, Case No. 31713). Though agreeing to the restitution recommendation, the Court in a 4-1 decision, citing his physical and mental health challenges as mitigating factors, and his prior experience as a commissioner, opted to restrict Dues to mental hygiene work for 24 months.
Rotating duties on a weekly basis
In his 53 years as a commissioner, Crewdson, 82, says he has never seen anyone earn more than $100,000 annually hearing mental hygiene cases.
However, given the amount of hours Dues worked in the first half of the fiscal year, Crewdson says he isn't surprised at how much Dues made.
According to Crewdson, he, Dues and Thomas M. Hayes would rotate working the day shift, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., on a weekly basis. Any cases requiring a commissioner after normal business hours, Crewdson said Dues agreed to handle.
Without seeing the particulars of each case, Crewdson said he doesn't know exactly how Dues was able to make $113,000. However, he surmised that a portion of it came from billing while waiting to hear a case.
According to Crewdson, commissioners are paid $65 an hour for cases they hear. Though they can't start billing until a case is before them during the day, Crewdson said it's a common practice for the clock to start at night once a commissioner gets a call.
"My position is, once I get the call, I've got to go," Crewdson said.
For Hayes, 70, the commissioner second in seniority, the rotation schedule suited him just fine. Working only once every three weeks, and during normal business hours has allowed him to spend more time with his grandchildren, Hayes said.
"It was getting to be kind of a burden to me personally," Hayes said.
Records show Hayes, who has worked as a commissioner for 32 years, was paid $17,994.50 last fiscal year.
Five additional commissioners appointed
However, not everyone agreed with how cases were being herd. On Jan. 25, Chief Kanawha County Circuit Judge Louis H. "Duke" Bloom appointed five additional attorneys as mental hygiene commissioners. Effective Feb. 1, Kenneth D. Ballard, Troy N. Giatras, Richard E. Holicker, Raymond Keener III and Robin Louderback joined Crewdson, Dues and Hayes in rotating one person per day on a 12-hour day shift and on-call for a 12-hour night shift.
Though never formally told why he was appointed commissioner, Keener said it was his understanding that the Mental Hygiene Office needed a "broader pool of attorneys to draw from." Nevertheless, Keener, 50, a first-time commissioner who earned $10,975.25 in the latter half of the fiscal year, said, thus far, the new schedule suits everyone fine.
"I think everybody is pretty happy with the way things work now," Keener said.
Neither Bloom nor anyone from his office was available for comment on the appointment of the five additional commissioners.