Rob Cornelius (right) poses with Gov. Jim Justice.
CHARLESTON – The state Republican Party chairwoman’s removal of the Wood County party official has resulted in a lawsuit.
Rob Cornelius, chairman of the Wood County Republican Executive Committee, filed his complaint and petition for writ of mandamus Aug. 21 in Kanawha Circuit Court against Secretary of State Mac Warner and West Virginia Republican Party Chairwoman Melody Potter.
“Chairwoman Potter’s attempted removal of petitioner was in violation of his rights including his state constitutional right to serve the office he was elected to, his right not to be removed from that office without complying with principles of due process, and his right not to be removed from a county office absent compliance with West Virginia Code 6-6-7,” the complaint states. “As such, petitioner’s attempted removal by Chairman Potter was ineffective and should not have been recognized by respondent Warner.”
On June 18, Potter sent a memo removing Cornelius as chairman of the Wood County GOP, saying he “has engaged in multiple acts of constant disunity.”
Cornelius has been critical of Gov. Jim Justice, a Republican, and of Potter.
Potter also named six new members to the Wood County GOP Executive Committee. Warner, as secretary of state, accepts updated county party rosters. Warner’s office questioned Potter’s ability to make such appointments but later decided it didn’t have the authority to challenge the move.
Cornelius argues that Potter did not follow due process in removing him from his chairman position. He says he still is the elected chairman of the Wood County GOP Executive Committee and that the Secretary of State’s office should accept his roster instead of the one submitted by Potter.
“It's critical we get this matter settled by a court, since the Secretary of State's office has taken this ministerial tact on this matter of elections and denial of due process,” Cornelius told The West Virginia Record. “My goal is to preserve the sanctity of every election in Wood County and around this state.
“We must make sure that no elected official duly chosen by an election ballot can be removed from office on the whim of a person from outside said county or jurisdiction.”
Cornelius also said there are proper procedures to remove or censure elected officials and “due process guaranteed us in our Constitution and in state law.”
“All were ignored here,” he said. “This is purely an attack on my free speech for expressing displeasure with the head of our party for her extreme closeness with our deadbeat governor and his shady administration.”
Cornelius also said voters have the opportunity to make “their precious choice at the polls.”
“Without the ability of citizens to trust that vote and that its result is in permanent ink or similar, our claim of being a democracy here is a false one,” he said. “Unlike in North Korea, Melody Potter cannot legally silence dissent nor remove someone from office, nor kill them for making true statements that make her uncomfortable or sad. We thank God this is a nation of laws."
Both Potter and Warner’s office provided little comment.
“I have no comments on any potential litigation related to this situation,” Potter told The Record in an email. “I stand by my decision to remove Mr. Cornelius from the Wood County Republican Executive Committee in accordance with our state party bylaws. I will have no further comments on this matter.”
Warner spokesman Mike Queen said the office is following standard procedure and seeking outside counsel to handle this matter. He said Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s office will post that solicitation soon.
“For those reasons, we cannot comment on the substance of the lawsuit at this time,” Queen told The Record. “Mr. Cornelius did provide the Secretary of State’s office with a 30-day notice of his intent to bring the lawsuit.
“However, we have not yet been formally served with the lawsuit. It would be improper for us to comment without first having our legal counsel analyze the content of Mr. Cornelius’ complaint. In any event, we look forward to bringing a quick resolution to the matter.”
In his filing, Cornelius asks the court to grant a Writ of Mandamus ordering Warner’s office to disregard Potter’s roster for the Wood County GOP Executive Committee and to post his as the valid one. He also seeks a declaratory judgment saying Potter’s actions are in violation of the state Constitution, state code and party by-laws. He also seeks attorney fees and court costs.
Cornelius is being represented by Charleston attorney Anthony Majestro of Powell & Majestro. The case has been assigned to Kanawha Chief Circuit Judge Joanna Tabit.
The state GOP’s summer meeting is this weekend at The Greenbrier, which is owned by Justice.
Kanawha Circuit Court case number 19-P-332