CHARLESTON – The Kanawha County commissioners may file a complaint with the West Virginia State Bar over a former county prosecutor who is now representing a private client in a claim against Kanawha County.
Mike Clifford wrote a letter to Kanawha County Sheriff Mike Rutherford on April 13 saying he would file a claim against the county for damages to the property of Sandra Shaffer, whose Hughart Drive property in Sissonville was dug up by Charleston police earlier this month while looking for evidence in the 2003 Kanawha County sniper shootings. The sheriff's deputies helped provide security for the search.
Clifford was Kanawha County's prosecuting attorney at the time of the shootings.
Shaffer gave statements to police at the time, and may be a witness against Shawn Lester, who was a suspect at the time and was arrested earlier in April in connection with the shootings.
The rules of professional conduct for attorneys in West Virginia specify that a lawyer cannot represent a private client in a matter he or she was involved in as a county prosecutor or other public officer.
County Commissioner W. Kent Carper said when the sheriff's department received the letter from Clifford, they spoke with the insurance company, Travelers Insurance Company, and spoke with their attorneys, Gary Pullin and Johnnie Brown.
"It's a clear conflict of interest," Carper said. "We've had our attorney send Clifford a letter telling him this."
Carper said they also asked their attorney to file a formal complaint with the State Bar if he thinks it is necessary.
"The sheriff's department did nothing wrong as far as I can see," Carper said. "They had a very limited role at the search site."
Carper said Clifford's claim hurts the department's insurability.
"They're working hard and doing their jobs," Carper said.
Although the search took place outside Charleston city limits, Charleston police led the search because they were the lead agency in the sniper investigation in 2003.