The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 38 now has the signatures of those seeking an election on Wheeling's two-officer per cruiser ordinance, thanks to a ruling by Ohio County Circuit Judge Arthur Recht.
"It screams out for public disclosure," Recht said, citing Section 81 of the Wheeling City Charter regarding petitions submitted to City Council. "It screams out to be tested."
Meanwhile, signature collectors George Jones and William Hefner want to be dismissed from the case involving them, Wheeling and the FOP because they believe city officials did not properly explain to them the meaning of the word "affidavit."
Photos by Casey Junkins
Ohio County Circuit Judge Arthur Recht speaks during a Wednesday hearing.
City Solicitor Rosemary Humway-Warmuth wanted to keep the signature pages away from the FOP. As the basis for her motion, Humway-Warmuth cited a Jefferson County, W.Va., Circuit Court case in which The Sheperdstown Observer sued Circuit Clerk Jennifer Maghan in an effort to force her to release a petition submitted by voters. After Maghan denied the newspaper's request, noting her office did not create the document, Circuit Judge David Saunders ruled in her favor.
Recht, however, did not seem to care what Saunders thought of the matter.
"Any other circuit court decision is not binding. ... There are 65 circuit judges in West Virginia. I don't care what the other 64 are doing - and so that there is no misunderstanding, I'm sure that they don't care what I'm doing," he said.
FOP attorney Joseph John has said that he has witnesses who will testify that they did not sign the petition, even though their signatures appeared on it.
After City Clerk Janice Jones certified 2,469 signatures to City Council in July, members voted unanimously in August to accept the petition. Humway-Warmuth then immediately filed suit against petition circulator George Jones in an effort to hold the election in May, rather than within 90 days as the City Charter seems to mandate.
After Recht allowed the FOP to intervene in the original lawsuit, John claimed Janice Jones and council should not have accepted the signatures because George Jones and Hefner did not adhere to the City Charter. John and the FOP claim some of the signatures were forged or improperly collected.
Now George Jones and Hefner have filed a motion, assisted by attorney Paul Harris, to dismiss them from the lawsuit. They claim city officials knowingly accepted the petition without adhering to the requirements of Charter Section 81 dealing with affidavits.
Regarding petitions submitted to the city, the charter states: "... there shall be attached thereto the affidavit of the circulator thereof stating that each signature was made in the circulator's presence. ..." Black's Law Dictionary defines "affidavit" as "a voluntary declaration of facts written down and sworn to by the declarant before an officer authorized to administer oaths, such as a notary republic."
"We submitted the petition to them (city) with our signatures at the bottom of each page. We thought that was good enough," George Jones said after the hearing. He noted the city accepted the petitions even though the charter states he and Hefner did not meet all the requirements.
Recht will hear a motion to remove George Jones and Hefner from the case at 3:30 p.m. Nov. 12 in his courtroom on the fifth floor of the City-County Building, 1500 Chapline St., Wheeling. A regular day of testimony in the case is scheduled for 8 a.m. Nov. 25 in the same venue.