PARKERSBURG –- After denying he allowed his personal and professional relationships with the prosecutor's office cloud his judgment in a Parkersburg businessman's 2007 criminal trial, a Wood County attorney is now working with a former Wood County prosecutor in a class-action lawsuit.
Last month, George J. Cosenza and Ginny A. Conley filed a breach of contract suit against St. Joseph's Hospital in Wood Circuit Court. In the complaint filed March 15, nine former employees -– Carole S. Caplinger, Carol S. Dearman, Earlene Workman, Mark Workman, Beverly J. Flanagan, Mary Kathleen Moore, Ed Rardin, Shannon M. Nelson and K.C. Stalnaker -– allege St. Joseph's failed to compensate them for their accumulated sick leaving following their termination from the hospital prior to its merger with Camden-Clark Memorial Hospital.
The two officially became Camden-Clark Medical Center on March 1, and is now an affiliate of West Virginia United Health System. Prior to the merger, St. Joseph's was owned by the Houston, Texas-based Signature Hospital Corporation, which is named as a co-defendant in the suit.
Because St. Joseph's not only failed to provide compensation to the nine named plaintiffs, but also "several hundred" other employees, Cosenza and Conley asked that the suit be certified as a class action. Following a hearing on April 4, Judge Robert A. Waters granted their request.
Following the hearing, Conley told The Parkersburg News and Sentinel that since the suit was filed, 130 former St. Joseph's employees have contacted Cosenza alleging they, too, were not compensated, and believes another 500 may also have a claim. The reason for the suit being filed so soon after St. Joseph's merger with Camden-Clark, Conley said, was Signature's announcement of plans to divest itself of its two remaining hospitals in Pampa and Wharton, Texas, and cease operations later this year.
"If we don't act quickly, local residents will be left hanging," Conley said.
In the midst of the class-action suit, Cosenza, a Parkersburg sole practitioner, and Conley, the previous Wood County prosecuting attorney, are defending themselves from allegations of professional misconduct. In separate lawsuits, Jeff Corra alleges Cosenza failed to zealously represent him against charges of furnishing alcohol to minors that were later overturned by the state Supreme Court, and Conley allowed related charges of involuntary manslaughter to hang over his head long past the time they should have been dismissed.
In September 2006, Corra was indicted by the Wood County grand jury on nine counts of furnishing alcoholic liquor to minors. The indictment accused Corra of serving alcohol to friends of his daughter, Ashli, during an impromptu party at their home on Rector Road on Aug. 6, 2006.
Though the friends were over the age of 18 at the time, all were still under the legal drinking age of 21.
Later that evening, Morgan Brown, Matthew Humphreys and Joshua Tucker, who were riding together with Courtney McDonough left the party, and were involved in a single vehicle accident on Rosemar Road in Parkersburg. The accident resulted in Brown being injured, and the deaths of Humphreys and Tucker.
Corra was later indicted in January 2007 on two counts of involuntary manslaughter.
Corra denied the charges against him saying that when Ashli's friends came to visit, he was outside burning brush. Also, he later learned that not only did one of the visitors use a fake ID to purchase alcohol at a convenience store, but McDonough snuck a Coors Light beer from his refrigerator.
Nevertheless, he was convicted in August 2007 on four of the furnishing counts. He was found not guilty on three others, and the two remaining counts were dismissed.
In February 2009, the Court overturned Corra's conviction citing the failure by both Assistant Wood County Prosecutor Sean Francisco, and Cosenza to point out that Corra was prosecuted under the wrong law.
In a unanimous opinion written by Justice Menis Ketchum, the Court said "it is apparent that neither the prosecutor nor defense counsel read the statutes relating to the crime of furnishing 'alcoholic liquors' before the jury reached its verdict."
"The prosecutor" Ketchum added, "mistakenly informed a busy trial judge that beer was the same as alcoholic liquor for the purpose of proving the indictment. Likewise, it is not disputed that when the circuit court asked at the charge conference whether he should instruct the jury on the definition of alcoholic liquor, defense counsel stated that an instruction was not necessary because beer was an alcoholic liquor."
Waters was the judge in Corra's case.
A month before the Court's decision, the deadline passed on trying Corra on the involuntary manslaughter charges. Absent certain circumstances, state law requires prosecutors bring a case to trial against a defendant within three terms of court, or one year, following an indictment or dismiss the charges.
Between then and the time of her departure in December 2008, Conley never made a motion to dismiss the involuntary manslaughter charges. Instead, that task was left to her successor, Jason Wharton, who made the motion in September 2009 –- which Waters two days later granted -– six terms of court past when they should've been dismissed.
In the legal malpractice suit Corra filed against Cosenza in August 2009, he alleged the case should have never gone to trial let alone reach the Supreme Court. Cosenza, Corra alleged, "allowed his professional friendships and relationships with representatives of the prosecuting attorney's office to affect adversely his judgment and compromise his representation."
Not only did he fail to address the issue of the prosecutor's office providing materials requested through discovery a week prior to the trial, but Corra alleges Cosenza "failed to assert at trial at least one instance of prosecutorial misconduct." In the wrongful prosecution suit he filed against Conley and Francisco six months later, Corra averred during a recess in his trial, Francisco, along with Deputy Wood County Sheriff Dave Tennant, attempted to intimidate two of his witnesses into making their story more favorable to the prosecution.
Though Cosenza denied the allegations, Corra attached as an exhibit to a filing made in his wrongful prosecution suit a letter Cosenza wrote, and hand delivered to Conley on Sept. 4, 2007. The letter, he maintains, is evidence Cosenza was more concerned with keeping a strong rapport with her office rather than help exonerate him.
"I have no desire to see Mr. Francisco prosecuted or sanctioned in any way, and will not willingly participate in any such proceeding." Cosenza wrote. "I have always considered Sean a friend, like him very much and wish him no harm."
"Of course, that was the major reason I didn't address the issue at trial, thinking that a not guilty verdict would render the issue moot," he added.
The West Virginia Record attempted to get a comment from Conley and Cosenza's attorneys about their current collaboration in the St. Joseph's class-action case amidst Corra's lawsuits.
When contacted, Wendy Greve, Conley's attorney, said, "I'm sorry. I won't be commenting." Likewise, Steven Crislip, Cosenza's attorney, declined comment saying only "That [the St. Joseph's suit] has nothing to do with it [Corra's suit]," and referred further questions to Corra's attorney, Todd Reed.
Currently, both of Corra's suits are in the discovery phase, and awaiting a trial date.
As of press time, neither St. Joseph's nor Signature has filed an answer to Cozenza and Conley's class-action suit.
Wood Circuit Court case numbers 11-C-98 (St. Joseph's class-action), 09-C-426 (Cosenza legal malpractice) and 10-C-79 (Conley wrongful prosecution)