WHEELING - A West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals official said Tuesday that Ohio County Magistrate Patty Murphy appears to have acted within her authority in how she handled a DUI case earlier this month.
The controversy stems from an alleged incident involving two Marshall County Schools employees - John Marshall High School Principal Corey Murphy, who is Patty Murphy's cousin, and county Special Education Director Shelby Haines. Wheeling police arrested Haines for DUI and cited Corey Murphy for failure to produce a driver's license following an alleged hit-and-run accident Nov. 10 outside the Stifel Fine Arts Center on National Road.
During an arraignment hearing later that day, Deputy Police Chief Martin Kimball said, Patty Murphy halted Haines' hearing and instructed her to appear the next day because Haines was too drunk to understand what was going on.
Patty Murphy disputes the chain of events in the police report, saying Monday that she completed Haines' arraignment on the day of her arrest and released her to Corey Murphy's sister. Although she admitted to asking officers to keep her name out of their report, Magistrate Murphy maintains she did nothing wrong.
Even if the arraignment hearing was interrupted as the report states, West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Director of Magistrate Services Janie Moore said magistrates have the authority to release a defendant to a responsible individual, rather than send them to jail, in the event he or she is too intoxicated to understand the proceedings.
Another acceptable alternative to incarceration, Moore said, is to send the impaired defendant to a detox center.
Kimball said Tuesday he's not sure if Patty Murphy's actions were improper, but noted he has never heard of a magistrate handling such a situation in that manner. He said if Haines was too intoxicated to be arraigned, he believes she should have been taken to the Northern Regional Jail until she was sober enough to participate in the hearing.
Kimball added that a lack of experience may have prevented the arresting officers from speaking up.
"It would not have happened if I had been there," said Kimball.
Officers responded to a hit-and-run report at the Stifel center at 2:30 p.m. Nov. 10. Witnesses told police that a woman driving a Jeep struck the building's sign and then drove away in the direction of Laurel Avenue. Officers observed the sign had been shattered, and there was also damage to a traffic sign, according to a police report.
When officers located the vehicle in front of Corey Murphy's Laurel Avenue home, he reportedly was in the driver's seat and Haines was in the passenger seat. Both reportedly failed field sobriety tests and were taken to police headquarters.
Haines later allegedly admitted to officers she had been driving, while police said Corey Murphy initially told them he was driving before changing his story and saying neither had been driving. Officers cited him and released him to another individual, then began to transport Haines to the Northern Regional Jail in Moundsville.
However, officers turned around and headed back to Wheeling after Patty Murphy, the magistrate on call that day, reportedly called them and instructed them to bring Haines directly to magistrate court for arraignment.