Court affirms Kanawha judge's ruling in state trooper's case

By Lawrence Smith | Apr 4, 2013

CHARLESTON – A judge did not abuse his discretion in making rulings favorable to the West Virginia State Police in a former trooper’s quest to get his job back, the state Supreme Court has ruled.

The court on March 29 voted 4-0 to affirm Kanawha Circuit Judge James C. Stucky’s ruling denying Robert C. Copson, Jr. a new trial in his writ of mandamus request contesting his discharge from WVSP.

In a five-page memorandum opinion, the court said Copson could not make a convincing case to remand the case back to Stucky since he did not err in any of the rulings he made.

Memorandum opinions are issued by the court in cases that would not be significantly aided by oral arguments, and present not new questions of law.

According to court records, WVSP received a tip on an unspecified date Copson was cultivating marijuana. Following an internal investigation, he was asked to provide a hair sample on Oct. 11, 2007.

After arriving at the detachment, Copson left and later returned with all his equipment. After informing his supervisor he was quitting, Copson later put his resignation in writing.

The resignation letter was later faxed to then-Superintendent D.L. Lemmon.

Records show Copson was notified his resignation letter was accepted. However, Copson claimed “he did not formally submit the resignation letter and that he did not resign.”

In his writ he would later file on July 25, 2008, Copson said WVSP could not formally accept his resignation as he was not given an exit interview pursuant to policies and procedures. Also, since he was not permitted to file a grievance, Copson maintained his employment was severed by discharge rather than resignation.

In his writ, Copson asked that along with reinstatement, he be awarded back pay, attorneys fees and court costs.

However, a jury on Feb. 23, 2011, ruled in favor of WVSP. On July 28, Stucky denied Copson’s motion for a new trial.

In his appeal, Copson said he should be granted a new trial on several grounds, including rulings Stucky made on jury selection, objections during trial and exclusion of certain evidence. Aside from citing previous case law, the court, without comment, said Stucky did not abuse his discretion in any of the rulings he made which could lead to reversible error.

Chief Justice Brent Benjamin did not participate in the case.

Charleston attorney Richard Monahan represented Copson. Gary Pullin and Wendy Greve with the Charleston law firm of Pullin, Fowler, Flanagan, Brown and Poe defended WVSP and Lemmon.

West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, case number 11-1238

Kanawha Circuit Court, case number 08-C-1440

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