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Insurer wants off hook in ex-Jefferson County sheriff's case

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- The insurance pool for West Virginia county governments asked a judge Thursday to declare that it has no obligation to defend a Jefferson County sheriff who resigned in disgrace and pleaded guilty in the beating of a bank robbery suspect.

Robert Shirley pleaded guilty earlier this month to violating the rights of suspect Mark Daniel Haines after a 2010 car chase. A second count of falsifying records was dismissed.

Shirley faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine when sentenced in U.S. District Court in Martinsburg and is on home detention until then. No date has been set.

A related civil lawsuit that Haines filed, meanwhile, is set to be tried this fall.

But the West Virginia Counties Group Self-Insurance Risk Pool wants Judge John Preston Bailey to rule that it doesn't have to defend Shirley in that case or pay any damages that may be awarded.

Its contract "specifically excludes coverage for, among other things, 'Expected or Intended Injury,' 'Fraud and Dishonesty,' and 'Punitive Damages,'" the motion argues.

The county risk pool also wants the judge to limit its obligations for two co-defendants, deputies Joseph Forman and Terry Palmer. It argues it should not have to pay any punitive damages if they're awarded in these cases.

The risk pool also wants Bailey to let it formally intervene in the case and to address the coverage issues first.

Bailey didn't immediately rule. Shirley was re-elected to a new four-year term in November, even as he faced the beating allegations. The County Commission has named a temporary replacement but is still deciding how to permanently fill his post.


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