Supreme Court says police officers are public office holders

By Justin Anderson | Apr 3, 2009

Workman

CHARLESTON – West Virginia Supreme Court justices unanimously upheld a Harrison County judge's ruling that a Clarksburg police officer couldn't serve on a local police civil service commission because he held a public "office."

Robert Matheny was appointed to the Bridgeport Civil Service Commission in February 2007 after a vacancy occurred. He was appointed by the Fraternal Order of Police Mountaineer Lodge 78.

Bridgeport's mayor, James Christie, sent a letter to the FOP on June 25, 2007, saying he had concerns about Matheny's service on the commission because his position as a police officer disqualified him, according to court records.

State law forbids a public office holder from serving on a civil service commission.

Matheny attended a Bridgeport City Council meeting on Aug. 27, 2007, but Christie refused to recognize his appointment to the commission.

Thereafter, the city instructed its lawyer to ask a circuit judge to declare that Matheny was ineligible because he held a public office as a police officer for the city of Clarksburg. The city filed a motion in September 2007.

Harrison Circuit Judge James Matish in March 2008 found in favor of the city of Bridgeport, ruling that Matheny was a public office holder.

Matheny appealed that ruling.

Justice Margaret Workman, writing for the majority, said that while the law relating to the civil service commission hasn't yet been interpreted, the court had previously spoken to the matter of what makes a public office under the law.

The criteria set out by the court in a 1970 case were whether a position "was created by law; whether the position was designated as an office; whether the qualifications of the appointee have been prescribed; whether the duties, tenure, salary, bond and oath have been prescribed or required; and whether the one occupying the position has been constituted a representative of the sovereign."

Workman's opinion goes through each of these criteria as they relate to a police officer's position.

Workman says it is "undeniable" that a police officer's position is created by law. The job is an "office" because state law sets out how an officer can be removed, Workman notes.

The qualifications, duties, tenure, salary, bond and oath of a police officer are set in law. As to whether a police officer is a representative of the sovereign, Workman says: "It is undeniable that a police officer is vested with the power to enforce the laws of this state."

Gerald E. Blair Jr. represented Matheny in his appeal. Bridgeport was represented by Kathryn K. Allen.

Supreme Court case number: 34220

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