CHARLESTON – A Pocahontas County judge improperly dismissed a case after an Ohio lawyer failed to connect to two telephone hearings, the Supreme Court of Appeals has ruled.
The Justices on Oct. 11 instructed Pocahontas Circuit Judge Joseph Pomponio to hold a hearing so Robert Flaugher of Columbus can show why the case should continue.
The decision sets a precedent in a new field of law, as judges around the nation rely more and more on conference calls instead of courtroom proceedings.
Flaugher represents Wesbanco Bank against Kristy Lanier, who represents herself.
"Both parties acknowledge that the circuit court had previously given Mr. Flaugher permission to participate in the hearings by telephone," the Justices wrote. "Mr. Flaugher asserts that he attempted to call in to both hearings using the manner specified by the circuit court.
"For whatever reason, the circuit court failed to connect with these calls ... Plaintiff asserts that its counsel had no way to know that the case would be dismissed for failure to appear, particularly since counsel asserts that he did appear in accordance with the court's instruction."
Wesbanco Bank sued Lanier in 2009, and Pomponio dismissed the suit last year.
He cited a procedural rule allowing a defendant to move for dismissal if a plaintiff fails to prosecute a suit.
The rule requires a judge to provide notice and an opportunity to be heard before granting a motion to dismiss.
"Upon careful consideration, we conclude that the circuit court abused its discretion by dismissing the complaint without giving the plaintiff notice and an opportunity to be heard," the Justices wrote.
They identified the telephone service provider as CourtCall.