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Local attorney explains process of removing an elected official from office

Published: Oct. 29, 2021 at 6:11 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 29, 2021 at 6:19 PM EDT
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PARKERSBURG, W.Va. (WTAP) - The process begun by the Wood County Commission in response to a lawsuit and complaint against Sheriff Steve Stephens is only the beginning of a process that could result in the sheriff’s removal from office.

The commission agreed Thursday to seek an outside law firm to conduct an investigation into allegations against the sheriff.

Section 6, Article 6, Chapter 7 of the West Virginia State Code-commonly known as 6-6-7, outlines the process to be used in the removal of elected officials.

Either the county commission or a private individual seeking a petition with signatures, can begin the process of removing an elected official.

The chief judge of the local circuit court can then determine whether there is enough evidence to hold a formal hearing, including witness testimony, by a three-judge panel appointed by the West Virginia Supreme Court.

That panel would decide whether the elected official-in this case, the sheriff-remains in office.

”The people have spoken, and they wanted Sheriff Stephens to be sheriff,” Attorney George Cosenza explains. “While in office, if he committed some malfeasance or wrongdoing, he certainly can be removed. But that’s a process set up to make sure the people who voted for him, that those votes meant something, and removal of him is not going to be taken lightly.”

Cosenza emphasizes the county commission-or a private individual-cannot remove an elected official on its own.

He also notes the panel’s decision could be appealed to the West Virginia Supreme Court.

10 years ago, a three-judge panel decided not to remove then-Wood County sheriff Jeff Sandy from office, after a two-day hearing resulting from a deputy’s petition complaint.

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