MARLINTON – Though her defeat in Tuesday’s election brings the effort to potentially remove the incumbent Pocahontas County prosecutor to a close, the ethics charges that led to it remain open.
Donna Meadows Price’s bid for a second term was upended by Marlinton attorney Eugene Simmons. Unofficial results showed Simmons, 67 and an Independent, defeating Price, 44 and a Democrat, 1,883 to 1,372.
Hanging over Price’s head was a six-count statement of charges filed against her on Sept. 27, 2011, by the Lawyer Disciplinary Board, the prosecutorial arm of the state Supreme Court. The statement stemmed from complaints lodged against her by the county’s two circuit judges, Joseph C. Pomponio, Jr. and James C. Rowe, who accused Price of either dereliction of duty or making questionable decisions.
Specifically, Pomponio in his complaint filed Feb. 14, 2011, accused Price of failing to prepare orders in cases, including juvenile delinquency, present cases to the grand jury, return telephone calls, spend sufficient time in the office and cooperate with law enforcement. The statement noted in a letter sent to Pomponio dated four days earlier, Sheriff David Jonese said Price failed to bring multiple drug-related cases in trial the previous two years, and asked for the appointment of a special prosecutor to handle them.
In his complaint filed April 8, 2011, Rowe took issue with Price using a woman placed on an improvement period by the state Department of Health and Human Resources in an abuse and neglect case as a confidential informant to aid in undercover drug buys. Though Price denied it was, Rowe said the woman acting as an informant was a conflict of interest by not only exposing her to the very thing to which she has an addiction, but also putting her in jeopardy of permanently losing custody of her child in violating the terms of her improvement period.
Also, Rowe noted that after she was appointed as a special prosecutor, Price sat on the case of a Greenbrier County sheriff’s deputy accused of having sex with a minor for nearly a year. According to the statement, Price asked to be removed from the case in early 2011.
On Oct. 18, Pomponio filed a petition for the appointment of a special prosecutor to not only take over eight pending drug-related cases, but also to conduct an investigation if Price should be removed as prosecutor for “malfeasance, misfeasance or neglect.” After filing the petition, both Pomponio and Rowe recused themselves from the case, and asked Chief Justice Menis E. Ketchum for appointment of special judge.
Records show Ketchum on Oct. 19 appointed retired Justice Larry V. Starcher to hear the case. Since then, no action has been taken.
An evidentiary hearing on the statement of charges against Price was scheduled and continued three times prior to the election. As of press time, a new hearing date has yet to be scheduled.
Pocahontas Circuit Court, case number 12-P-42 (special prosecutor appointment)
West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, case number 11-1345 (statement of charges)