Charleston Gazette-Mail. October 30, 2023.
Editorial: Missing docs and dodging courts: Justice in a bind
Two lawsuits against state agencies have some troubling similarities.
Last week, Gov. Jim Justice said it would be a waste of time for him to testify in a lawsuit against the West Virginia Division of Corrections, alleging problems at the state’s regional jails have contributed to the deaths of inmates.
Justice is fighting a subpoena in the case, which recently was updated to reflect the governor’s questionable transfer of $28 million in federal COVD-19 money budgeted for the jails into a discretionary fund Justice controls. The transfer happened just before unspent CARES Act funds were supposed to be returned to the federal government. Justice then gave $10 million from that fund to Marshall University for the construction of a baseball stadium. (Other agencies are reportedly looking into the transfer of those funds and how they’ve been used.)
The case has some other issues that would seem to warrant information from the governor. After all, Justice declared an emergency in 2017 because of understaffing at correctional facilities and mobilized the National Guard to help. He did the same thing in August of last year, and that emergency remains in effect.
Justice also was made aware of $200 million in deferred maintenance costs, according to testimony from former West Virginia Department of Homeland Security secretary Jeff Sandy. Although Justice isn’t a defendant in the lawsuit, its understandable that plaintiffs would want to know why maintenance that might have contributed to unsanitary and unsafe conditions was put off.
According to a Gazette-Mail report from Mike Tony, attorneys for the plaintiffs also have accused state officials of destroying evidence by purging the email accounts of six corrections employees who left the department last year, despite a request from the plaintiffs to preserve those records. Justice Chief-of-Staff Brian Abraham, who also has received a subpoena in the case, said there was nothing nefarious about wiping the accounts.
Missing documents have come up in a class-action lawsuit against the state regarding alleged failings of the foster care system. Most recently, there has been no acknowledgement from Justice or the Department of Health and Human Resources regarding document requests for a case in Sissonville, where multiple foster children were found locked in a shed. Reports suggest multiple calls were made to Child Protective Services over a span of several months regarding the situation.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs in the case, which was filed in 2019, also sought sanctions against the state in a filing last week, alleging that emails from seven former DHHR employees were destroyed.
The foster care lawsuit is a little different, in that Justice is a defendant and Republican lawmakers are turning on him and the DHHR for their lack of cooperation and transparency, especially after the details of the Sissonville case surfaced.
As the Gazette-Mail’s Phil Kabler noted over the weekend while writing specifically about the corrections case, Justice’s reticence means one of two things, neither of them good: he’s either lying or completely clueless.
It’s true that Justice has never taken his post as governor that seriously and his lack of knowledge regarding basic functions of government has been head-scratching at times. But, as Kabler pointed out, it’s very unlikely that he doesn’t know anything about the transfer of the COVID funds or the dire situation at the state’s correctional facilities.
The same could be said for the foster care crisis.
It’s pretty pathetic when a governor in the home stretch of his second term, and soon to be campaigning for U.S. Senate, shrugs his shoulders and suggests none of this has anything to do with him.
The Intelligencer. November 1, 2023.
Editorial: Setting a New Path For W.Va. Workers
The news last week from West Virginia University’s John Deskins wasn’t surprising, but it should raise the alarm for local officials on both sides of the Ohio River when it comes to economic growth: We’ve got to do better in getting local residents back to work.
The challenge for our region and frankly most of Appalachia is workforce participation. It’s hard to grow the economy when jobs go unfilled. Deskins noted the national average for labor force participation is 62%, with West Virginia achieving a 55% labor force participation rate. That fact — getting able-bodied people back into the workforce — is the state’s “greatest economic challenge,” Deskins said.
“The statistic hasn’t changed. We haven’t moved,” Deskins said, noting the problem began in the 1980s. “I emphasize this so heavily because we are never going to achieve the level of prosperity we hope for unless we get more of our people in the workforce. … It has become a defining mark of West Virginia.”
That has to change if our region and state ever hope to move forward. There are jobs here; that’s not the issue. Getting people to take them — and de-incentivizing options and programs that make it possible for folks not to work — has to be our first priority.
Anything less will lead to continued economic stagnation.
Parkersburg News and Sentinel. November 1, 2023.
Editorial: Education: Violations of student rights must not be tolerated
Teachers and administrators of public schools in West Virginia have an obligation to adhere to our state’s and our country’s constitutions as they educate our children using taxpayer dollars. That seems as though it should go without saying. But time and again they (and a few lawmakers) are woefully confused on the issue, to the detriment of our students. Last week’s settlement of a lawsuit in Cabell County reminds us the courts understand where the line should be drawn.
Four families in Huntington sued the Cabell County school district in February 2022, after an evangelical preacher held a revival assembly during the school day in 2022 that some students were required to attend.
The lawsuit said two Huntington High School teachers escorted their entire homeroom classes to an assembly hosted by evangelical preacher Nik Walker, who had been leading revivals in the Huntington area.
Students, including a Jewish student who asked to leave but was not permitted to do so, were instructed to close their eyes and raise their arms in prayer, according to the lawsuit. The teens were asked to give their lives over to Jesus to find purpose and salvation. Students said they were told that those who did not follow the Bible would “face eternal torment.”
One is forced to wonder which part of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was confusing to the teachers and administrators who allowed that to happen. As a consequence of their actions, the Cabell County Board of Education’s policy now makes clear it is “not the province of a public school to either inhibit, or advance, religious beliefs or practices,” according to board lawyer Brian D. Morrison.
“Students must remain free to voluntarily express their individual religious beliefs, or lack thereof, as each student sees fit,” he said.
Annual religious freedom training is now mandatory in the district, too.
It is mind-boggling to think such a lawsuit was necessary, particularly in a state where our constitutional rights and freedoms are so cherished.
Teachers, administrators and meddling lawmakers must take note. When these matters fall under legal scrutiny, the courts have demonstrated repeatedly such egregious violations of student rights simply will not fly.