CHARLESTON- Mingo County Sheriff Lonnie Hannah and the county commission have fought over $147,000 in flood cleanup charges almost from the day Hannah took office, and now the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals must decide who won.
Hannah, in his dual role as county treasurer, refused to pay two companies the commission hired because he considered their bills illegitimate.
Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury took the commission's side, requiring Hannah to pay $103,275 to Marcum Trucking and $44,000 to a company named 263.
Thornsbury landed hard on Hannah, ordering him to pay Marcum Trucking's $4,214 legal bill and $9,027.19 in interest.
Hannah has asked the Supreme Court of Appeals to relieve him of Marcum Trucking's legal bill and interest.
Though he paid the contractors as Thornsbury ordered, he wants the Court to uphold his power to deny payment of bills he considers illegitimate.
The West Virginia Sheriffs Association supports Hannah.
His attorney, Letitia Chafin, told the Supreme Court of Appeals on Jan. 8 that a criminal investigation of the bills continues.
She said the Logan County prosecutor has taken charge of the case and has told Hannah to stay out of it.
Justice Joseph Albright asked Chafin if records were missing.
"Neither company has any records," she said. "He knew crimes were happening. He was doing what he felt was right."
She said a grand jury indicted the contractors but the indictments were thrown out on a technicality.
She said the ongoing investigation involves more than $700,000.
Glenn Rutledge, representing the county commission, said Thornsbury asked for evidence of crimes and Hannah did not answer.
In rebuttal, Chafin said the commission wanted the Court to hold that Hannah had a duty to sign checks he knew were illegal.
She said Hannah was sworn in as sheriff in 2005, after the flood.
She said the emergency services director told Hannah he had issues about the bills.
A decision will follow.
In their deliberation, the Justices also will consider a brief that John Teare Jr. of Charleston filed for the state sheriffs association.
"If the Sheriff disburses county funds that he or she has reason to suspect should not be lawfully paid," Teare asked, "would he or she be guilty of failing to perform official duties?"
He argued that a sheriff might be liable, personally or on an official bond, if he or she paid an invalid order.