CHARLESTON - A lawsuit filed in Kanawha Circuit Court accuses an eastern Panhandle circuit judge of malicious prosecution during the waning days of his time as prosecutor in the case of a former city councilman falsely accused of embezzlement

Marques Rice on Jan. 26 filed suit against former Mineral County Prosecutor Lynn A. Nelson. In his suit, Rice, 39, accuses Nelson of pursing criminal charges of embezzlement against him that were rooted in allegations leveled by one of his enemies, George McNeill.

Rice's suit names both McNeill, and Sgt. J..M. Droppleman of the West Virginia State Police as co-defendants.

Two-year investigation

According to his suit, Rice was elected to the Keyser city council in 1998. In addition to being a councilman, Rice also served as the city's water and sewer commissioner.

A year later, McNeill was appointed to fill a vacant council seat. That same year, the suit states McNeill pled no contest to a charge of destruction of property for "keying" Rice's car.

As punishment, McNeill was ordered to pay Rice $1,700, and sentenced to probation. According to the Keyser city administrator's office, McNeill chose not to run for the full two-year term on council in 2000.

In August 2006, McNeill approached Nelson and Droppleman with allegations of "financial improprieties in the City of Keyser." During his 3.5-hour presentation, McNeill pointed a finger at Rice.

During the course of their investigation, both Nelson and Droppleman spoke the media about McNeill's allegations with Droppleman saying specifically there were "'situations where money was misappropriated, misspent or otherwise obtained by false pretense.'" The suit does not provide specifics as to when and where their statements were published or broadcast.

Nelson, the suit alleges, was prepared to present a case against Rice to the Mineral County grand jury during its May term. However, the case was not made as another State Trooper assigned to the case, J.E. Whisner, "would not provide testimony regarding the City of Keyser cases because he was aware of the lack of probable cause."

Four months later, Droppleman appeared before the grand jury to make a case against Rice. According to the suit, Rice was indicted on Sept. 3, 2008, on one count each of embezzlement, and obtaining money by false pretenses, both felonies.

Specifically, Rice was accused of stealing firewood valued at $1,875 from the city's tree removal project, and directing a city employee to file a fraudulent insurance claim for the loss of a Jetta-Spayer in which the city received $40,610.14. The suit does not specify when the alleged acts took place.

Regardless, the charges against Rice were dismissed on Jan. 28, 2009.

No probable cause

In his suit, Rice maintains that Droppleman completed his investigation into McNeill's allegations a full year prior to his indictment. The report dated Aug. 29, 2007, "indicates that there was insufficient evidence to support the allegation of embezzlement against the accused (Rice)."

His indictment, Rice alleges, was a result of McNeill providing, and Droppleman and Nelson accepting, "unsubstantiated, fraudulent [and] false information" for the purpose of "annoying or embarrassing him." The harm they caused him was compounded when all three spoke separately with the media prior to the indictment.

In his suit, Rice levels additional allegations at Nelson saying he took a personal interest in the case "when he met with Defendant McNeill and others searching for clues and corroboration to present a case against [him] to the Grand Jury." Also, "Nelson functioned as an advocate, preparing for the prosecution of Plaintiff Rice before investigators amassed probable cause and before an indictment was appropriate."

In dealing with the false criminal charges leveled against him, Rice alleges he's suffered "past, present and future pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, annoyance, aggravation, inconvenience and psychological distress." He seeks unspecified damages, court costs and attorney fees.

He is represented by Charleston attorney Katherine A. "Kitty" Dooley. The case is assigned to Judge Carrie Webster.

According to the Mineral County Clerk's Office, Nelson, 46, was first elected prosecutor in 1988, a year after his admission to the State Bar. In 2008, he ran unopposed in both the Republican primary, and general election to replace a seat vacated by retiring Grant Circuit Judge Andrew N. Frye Jr.

Grant, Mineral and Tucker counties are part of the 21st Judicial Circuit.

Ironically, it was Frye who dismissed the indictment. According to the Mineral Daily News-Tribune, Nelson's successor Jay Courrier, admitted the charges were "without merit."

Now a senior status judge, Frye hears cases when either Nelson, and Judge Philip B. Jordan have a conflict.

In his last year as prosecutor, Nelson's salary was $92,200. As a circuit judge, he now earns $116,000.

While a councilman, Rice earned $2,400 a year. As commissioner, he was first paid $50 a month, with the amount increasing to $150 a month in January 2007.

Rice's bid for a sixth two-year term on council come to an end in 2008 when he lost in the city's non-partisan primary election.

Kanawha Circuit Court, case number 10-C-146

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