The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Local News

June 6, 2012

Raleigh County news

Raleigh prosecutor wants more pay for staff

Higher pay to make up for the years they weren’t getting extra money for working overtime and to reward them in line with their professional standing is in line for her assistants and staff members, Raleigh County Prosecutor Kristen Keller said Tuesday.

What’s more, she told the Raleigh County Commission, the short-lived escape of a Beckley man from a minimum-security prison after he threatened to murder one of her assistants for prosecuting him proves her office needs a full-time guard/investigator.

“I have ordered a payroll time clock,” Keller said. “I cannot justify not paying my staff overtime.”

Keller said she and her predecessor, Larry Frail, had been advised that the county doesn’t pay overtime for work performed after the normal 40-hour week.

“I have learned differently,” she said, an allusion to recent Freedom of Information Act requests by a Clarksburg consultant, Michael Queen, looking into overtime paid to certain maintenance and other workers employed by the county.

County Administrator John Humphrey recently confirmed that some overtime was paid and justified it on the basis that two special elections prompted more work, adding that Raleigh County would have been out more had it hired outside contractors at prevailing wage to perform maintenance tasks.

“The money saved to the county by my office and my staff not receiving overtime, when now I know overtime is regularly paid by the county, is immeasurable,” Keller said.

“That has to change.”

Keller pointed out her chief deputy, Tom Truman, gets $38.46 an hour, while assistant John Gallaher is paid $23.08, and two others are paid between $28 and $29.

Professional employees aren’t paid overtime since the State Code presumes they are remunerated on the basis of their standing, based on education, experience and demonstrated work performance, Keller said.

“We have prosecutors with 40 years’ experience, one of whom is handling every child abuse and neglect case in this county,” she said.

“It takes three judges to handle that workload. All of my prosecutors have doctor’s degrees. Since they don’t get overtime, they are making $20,000 less than folks in maintenance or those who are sitting by the courtroom doors.”

And that statistic, she told the commission, has become a standard joke in her office.

Keller called for a pay raise in line with other employees, $10,000 for assistants, $5,000 for the staff, although not necessarily across-the-board.

“They deserve that, not only because of merit, but to compensate the years that they worked endlessly over 40 hours a week,” she said.

“They donated their time, not knowing that no one else in the county was donating that time.”

On the other matter, the escape of Matthew Stewart Wade, 49, of Beckley from Pruntytown Correctional Center in Taylor County fueled Keller’s request for a special guard/investigator assigned to her office.

Wade leveled a threat against Truman after the assistant prosecutor led the case against him in a murder-for-hire case four years ago.

“The Division of Corrections somehow classified him as non-violent,” Keller said, sounding more than a little annoyed by that.

Death threats by criminal defendants against prosecutors and her staff are nothing new, and for that reason, “we are constantly looking over our shoulders,” Keller said.

“Except for law enforcement, in terms of security, I can promise you that the folks most likely to be killed are prosecutors,” she said.

Security is highly sophisticated in the judicial center and there is a measure of protection in the old courthouse structure itself, she said.

Keller’s request for a new position of guard/investigator would not only keep the prosecutor’s office secure but would handle the work of a gumshoe at times when law enforcement agencies simply cannot perform the needed legwork.

Three times a year, she said, her office must deal with an average of 300 files when the grand jury meets, and the calls to her office are “endless.”

“We need to be able to ensure people when they are dissatisfied with police investigations,” the prosecutor said.

“It doesn’t mean police aren’t doing their best job.

“Police do not have the time to follow up in a manner that is commensurate with constitutional responsibilities.”

— E-mail: mannix

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