CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Former Kanawha County Prosecuting Attorney Mike Clifford did nothing wrong when he decided to represent Sandra Shaffer seven years after presiding over Kanawha County's prominent 2003 sniper case, justices for the West Virginia Supreme Court ruled Friday.
Clifford filed a civil lawsuit on Shaffer's behalf in 2011 after Kanawha County sheriff's deputies and Charleston police damaged her property near Sissonville while looking for evidence connected with the 2003 sniper-style killings of three people. Clifford served as prosecuting attorney during the initial investigation of the killings.
Lawyers with the West Virginia Office of Disciplinary Counsel and West Virginia Lawyer Disciplinary Board then filed a motion in Kanawha County Circuit Court, asking that Clifford be taken off the Shaffer case because of a conflict of interest. State rules for professional conduct preclude lawyers from representing someone in a case they were involved in as a public official, and from representing someone on one side of an issue and later representing someone on the other side.
Kanawha Circuit Judge Jim Stucky ruled that no conflict of interest existed because the defendants were unable to prove what Clifford's job as prosecutor at the time of the killings had to do with Shaffer's lawsuit against the county and the city.
Lawyers for the Office of Disciplinary Counsel and Disciplinary Board disagreed and told Clifford they would pursue conflict-of-interest sanctions against him anyway.
Clifford went to the state Supreme Court, asking that the disciplinary counsel and board be stopped from taking further action against him. Clifford's lawyers argued that the disciplinary counsel and board couldn't pursue sanctions because a circuit judge had already ruled there was no conflict of interest.
Supreme Court justices disagreed, but they also said they had the final say in disciplinary matters. Although ruling that a circuit court ruling didn't preclude further actions by the disciplinary counsel and disciplinary board, the high court agreed with Stucky's opinion that there was no conflict of interest.
"[Clifford's] participation in the sniper investigation, which was essentially limited to updates on the progress of investigators, was not substantially related to the civil suit he filed on behalf of Ms. Shaffer," Justice Allen Loughry wrote. "In fact, there is no evidence that it was even remotely related to the civil suit."
Reach Rusty Marks at rustyma...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1215.