Wheeling FOP Allowed To Amend Cruiser Suit

WHEELING – Circuit Judge Ronald Wilson will allow the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 38 to correct errors it made in a lawsuit against the city of Wheeling that, if successful, would subvert voters’ decision to overturn a law requiring police officers to patrol in pairs.

On Nov. 6, Wheeling residents voted by a 6,773-to-3,905 margin to strike down the long-debated two-officer-per-cruiser requirement, which had been in effect since 1972.

Wilson recently granted FOP attorney Stephen Herndon’s motion for leave to file an amended petition after the lodge admitted there were mistakes in its original lawsuit. The new document corrects the dates of council meetings during which legislation that put the cruiser law before voters was on City Council’s agenda. It makes the same basic claims that council’s actions violated state law and Wheeling’s city charter, so the resulting election should be declared invalid.

Wilson’s decision came over the objection of City Solicitor Rosemary Humway-Warmuth, who in an earlier filing argued that the correct dates easily could have been found in public documents and suggested the lawsuit, filed in mid-October, was a last-ditch effort by the FOP to cast doubt in voters’ minds before the election.

However, Wilson said the FOP’s motion seeking to correct its errors should not have caused the city “undue surprise” and thus should be granted.

“The issue raised by the plaintiff is well-known to the city of Wheeling, and therefore they would have actual knowledge of the meetings at which the issues were addressed,” Wilson wrote.

The FOP claims council’s Aug. 7 meeting, during which members heard first reading of the cruiser ordinance, was in violation of the city charter because it began at noon, not at 7 p.m. as provided by the law that was in effect at that time, and did not follow all the requirements set forth in the charter for special meetings. The city maintains, however, that the meeting was a regular meeting on the first Tuesday of the month and is not subject to the more stringent notice requirements for special meetings.

The lodge also claims council illegally held two readings of the ordinance Aug. 21, which it only may do in the case of a pressing public emergency. City officials deny this happened, calling the FOP allegations “outright falsehoods.”

Wilson has not set a hearing date in the matter. A motion by the city asking Wilson to dismiss the lawsuit outright has yet to be addressed.