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Veteran judge to hear appeal in sheriff case

August 30, 2012
By John Wickline Staff Writer ( , The Inter-Mountain

The West Virginia Supreme Court picked a 24-year veteran of the bench to hear the appeal of a Buckhannon man challenging the legality of the Upshur County Sheriff's election.

Judge Thomas Steptoe Jr., who served nearly a quarter of a century as a circuit judge in Jefferson County, will hear the arguments in the case at 10 a.m., Sept. 5 at the Upshur County Courthouse. Upshur County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Keadle recused himself from the case Tuesday.

David Taylor, who lost in his bid to win the Republican primary election for sheriff, is appealing an Upshur County Commission ruling that declared Chief Deputy Mike Kelley to be a proper candidate for sheriff despite Kelley's violation of the federal Hatch Act.

Kelley, who won the Republican primary for sheriff, withdrew from the general election after being given the option to withdraw or step down from his job by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel because of Kelley being in conflict with the law.

The Hatch Act, passed in 1939, prohibits federal employees, along with state and local employees whose salary is supplemented in any way by federal funds or who oversees federally funded projects from seeking office in a partisan election.

The sheriff's department receives money from several federally funded programs, including highway safety and Prevention Resource Officers.

The county commissioners admitted they had no jurisdiction over federal law when they made their ruling in favor of Kelley in July.

Following the state Elections Commission approving Kelley's withdrawal, the Upshur County Republican Executive Committee decided to appoint long-time law enforcement veteran Dave Coffman as the party's nominee, even though Coffman just days prior had filed paperwork to seek the office as an independent candidate. The committee also interviewed Taylor as possible replacement on the ballot, but eight of the committee's 12 members voted to support Coffman.

Coffman will face former sheriff Sherman Baxa in the fall, as Baxa also filed to run as an independent candidate. There was no Democratic challenger for the sheriff's post in the primary election.

Contact John Wickline by email at



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