Charleston – A Putnam County attorney, Harvey Peyton, has accused West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey of “legal malpractice” in handling lawsuits concerning the state’s jail conditions, which includes the death of an inmate, Quantez Burks, at Southern Regional Jail.
A federal class action lawsuit has drawn significant attention to the issue, with a judge issuing a rare admonishment and directed verdict against the state, alleging destroyed documents pertinent to the case. The situation is compounded by a shortage of corrections officers, a state of emergency declared in August 2022, and calls for increased worker salaries.
Meanwhile, Hurricane lawyer Harvey Peyton went so far as to claim that Morrisey is guilty of “legal malpractice” in his management of his public office.
Additionally, Tyler County Republican Delegate David Kelly called recent developments “very troubling,” on that front as well. He is Chair of the House Jails and Prisons Committee.
Kelly said the Legislature will need to take “another look at our jails and prisons.”
Peyton first made his comments regarding legal malpractice on the “Ask the Lawyer” segment of Charleston’s WCHS-Radio, Monday morning program.
During the airing, Peyton expressed “bewilderment” at the “cavalier attitude” Morrisey and other officials have displayed in the face of mounting lawsuits concerning the jails, prisons and related expenses.
Directing most of his commentary toward a recent verbal reprimand and directed verdict ordered in a federal class action lawsuit concerning deplorable jail conditions, Peyton questioned whether Morrisey “is fully engaged and doing his duty.”
While noting the federal lawsuits filed concerning state jail conditions, particularly with regard to Southern Regional Jail inmate Quantez Burks, Peyton asked, “does this Attorney General even have a civil division?”
He went on, “surely the Attorney General could allocate four employees to a civil division and tell them to monitor cases.”
Peyton continued, “Being admonished by a federal judge is rare and should be taken a lot more seriously.”
Burks was one of 13 deaths over one year at Southern Regional Jail, officials said.
“Typically, you’d think the Attorney General would file a Notice of Appearance in all the cases involving the state or its sub-divisions” Peyton added. “But apparently Morrisey is too busy to do that.” HARVEY PEYTON, ATTORNEY
Peyton went on, “That way, the AG’s office would get notice of all filings, etc. If something happened as it recently did in U.S. Magistrate Judge Omar Aboulhosn’s court (a jail conditions is alleged to have caused Burks death), at least some attorney in the AG’s office might quickly intervene.”
Peyton added, “at the very least, they could call up the insurance or law firm handling the case and ask questions.”
Peyton was referencing the class action federal lawsuit in which the Judge came down hard on state officials who the Judge was led to believe destroyed documents pertinent to the case.
After the Judge ordered a default judgment against the state, Governor Jim Justice and his Chief of Staff Brian Abraham said the documents were not destroyed after all.
Abraham said two jail employees were fired and he hopes the Judge will reconsider his decision.
Lawmakers and prison officials have been dealing with a shortage of corrections officers for months that led Justice to declare a state of emergency in August 2022.
The need for increased worker salaries has been a key issue.