City attorney admits to some violations of rules of conduct
by Paul Leakan
In a written response to a state board that oversees lawyers, Clarksburg City Attorney John A. Farmer admitted he violated three state rules of conduct for attorneys.
Farmer, who turned in his resignation as city attorney in early February, had no comment on the matter Wednesday.
According to the Investigative Panel of the state Lawyer Disciplinary Board, Farmer violated state conduct rules regarding diligence, communication, misconduct, scope of representation, bar admission and disciplinary matters and declining or terminating representation.
In his written response, Farmer denied all but three of the violations that were cited in six separate complaints by the Investigative Panel, an administrative arm of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals that regulates the conduct of state attorneys.
Farmer admitted that he failed to act with reasonable promptness in representing his client, failed to keep his client reasonably informed about the status of a case and engaged in professional misconduct.
The violations that Farmer admits to involve a case where he was hired in 1996 by brothers Jim and Joe Guzzi, which was before Farmer became city attorney. The complaint said that Farmer filed a lawsuit on the Guzzi's behalf. The complaint did not discuss the specifics of the lawsuit.
The complaint said that Farmer's clients "were pushing him to move the case and discovery along, and wanted to know the opposing party's position."
The complaint said that Farmer then drafted formal questions for the opposing lawyers, but never sent them the questions.
Farmer then allegedly wrote the answers himself to the formal questions for the opposing party, signed the opposing lawyer's name to the document and provided a copy of the questions to his clients.
The complaint said that Farmer later informed his clients what he had done, and his clients fired him.
Farmer said Tuesday that he may give up his license to practice law in the state.
A hearing will be held before the state Lawyer Disciplinary Board, which will review the case and make recommendations for action, if any, to the Supreme Court of Appeals. No date has been set for the hearing.
There are no criminal implications stemming from the violations.
Some Clarksburg City Council members now believe that with Farmer on his way out, city administrators should perform better interviews when hiring the next city attorney.
Councilman Jim Hunt called the violations unfortunate because Farmer had done a good job for the city.
Even so, Hunt believes the city should pay closer attention to the next applicants for the city attorney position.
"That's a very critical position in the city, probably one of the most critical," Hunt said. "I think that it goes without saying that the level of interview has to obviously be above what it was before."
Councilwoman Kathy Folio believes the city needs to do a better job in its hiring process by inquiring about applicant's references and past job performance. "We need to contact the oversight agencies to see if there has been any complaints with that person just like a lot of people do when they get a new doctor."
Either way, City Manager Percy Ashcraft has the authority to hire a new city attorney. Ashcraft was out of town Wednesday and unable to be reached for comment.
Future of Eagle Glass in doubt
by Troy Graham
The state Bureau of Employment Programs last week refused to lower the workers' compensation rate for Eagle Convex Glass, throwing the company's future in Clarksburg in doubt.
Eagle President Tom Hays said in a January letter to the company's 54 employees that if a lower rate could not be secured, the company would consider relocating in either Pennsylvania or Mexico.
Hays said Wednesday that he was uncertain what the company's next move will be. "Moving the plant elsewhere is a permanent solution," he said. "I want to exhaust my resources here first before we go off and move the plant."
Eagle's options, however, may be limited. The company has applied for both a "fresh start" workers' comp rate and a reclassification at a lower rate. Eagle was turned down on both requests.
The company, which has endured a bankruptcy and a devastating fire in recent years, had most recently sought to be reclassified at a rate that would save the company between $200,000 and $250,000, Hays said.
"They just rejected it out of hand," he said. "It's just a terrible nightmare. I don't know what I'm going to do."
Hays came to Eagle as a specialist in turning around troubled companies. He then put together a group of investors to buy the company. Although a bankruptcy court approved the sale to the group, Hays has been waiting to strengthen the company's financial position before taking over ownership. Hays called the current workers' comp rate an 'impediment' to finalizing the sale. "I don't know from an ownership perspective what we're going to do. We're still reviewing that with the voting trustees," Hays said.
Eagle is classified as a glass manufacturer, said George Flick, the underwriting director for the Workers' Compensation Division. The company, which pays $13.80 per $100 of payroll in workers' comp, had sought to be classified at the lower rate of a glass merchant, he said.
Hays argued that, because Eagle does not manufacture glass, it shouldn't be classified as a glass manufacturer. Glass is shipped to the plant, where it is etched into items such as computer screens.
But, Flick said the glass merchant classification Eagle sought is for companies that do work such as etching picture frames or monogramming glass that is sold directly to retailers. Eagle has a larger operation that sells its products to other manufacturers, he said.
"In this case it is our belief that the exposure to injury is greater at Eagle Convex Glass than those glass companies," Flick said. "The difference is really in the scale of the operation."
In a letter to Hays, Flick mentioned a program that Eagle can enter where the company receives a tax break if it agrees to pay a deductible on any injury claims filed. There is a risk, however, that the company could lose money if several claims are filed in a year, Flick said.
In January it was announced that Workers' Compensation Division officials had agreed to lower Eagle's rate. Flick said Wednesday that the commitment was to examine the rate for the entire glass industry. The glass industry is a "distressed industry," Flick said. Thirty percent of the premiums paid by the industry go toward paying off a $1.9 billion deficit in workers' comp.
The glass industry, which once thrived in the state, and especially in Clarksburg, has a high workers' comp rate because of the high incidents of "white lung" cases in glass plants.
A reworked workers' comp law, which is being debated by the Legislature, would lower premiums for all companies by 2 percent, Hays said. "That doesn't do anything for us at all," he said.
Although Hays was uncertain about the future of the company, or what strategies he would take to preserve it, he vowed to continue the rebuilding process at Eagle.
"The people have done everything they had to to come out of bankruptcy and the fire," he said. "They deserve to have us fight to keep the jobs here."
Unions have questions on CNG deal
by Troy Graham
Unions representing Consolidated Natural Gas Co.
employees are expecting written responses from the company by the end of
the week on some of the questions left unanswered following Monday's announced
buyout of CNG by Richmond, Va.-based power company Dominion Resources.
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