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Council OKs bill, prostitution first offenders won't receive jail time

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- First offenders of prostitute-related crimes in Charleston will no longer face jail time, as City Council passed a bill Monday evening that leaves only a fine up to $500 as punishment.

The new prostitution ordinance will apply to pending cases -- an element that had some council members voting against the ordinance.

"Perception bothers me," said Councilman at-large Jerry Ware. "A couple [people] have said, 'If that had not come to light, would we be doing this right now?' And that's my question. ... Ethically for me, I can't vote for that."

Ware, along with many other council members, made reference to the July arrest of lobbyist and Charleston attorney Phil Reale as part of a prostitution sting on the city's West Side. The Charleston Police Department issued a news release listing the names of those arrested, but Reale's was omitted.

The citation was dismissed without prejudice, which means the city could re-file the charges against Reale within a year.

There are currently 28 pending first-offense prostitution cases in the city, according to city attorney Paul Ellis.

Mayor Danny Jones spoke from the council floor in support of the bill. While Jones said the revelation of the Reale incident moved the city to take action, he said the idea was one that has been discussed for years.

"I've been thinking about this for a long time," Jones said. "Did this serve as a catalyst? You bet it did."

Ellis said making the law retroactive -- or, applying it to pending cases -- eliminates legal issues for the city regarding those pending cases.

"To leave that group of 28 pending cases in limbo ... that was going to be legally problematic," Ellis said. "If their lawyer stood up and started making arguments about that, I don't have a crystal ball, but I think the determination would be that they wouldn't be subject to jail time anyway."

Councilman Jack Harrison, the chairman of the ordinance and rules committee that approved the bill last week, said the ordinance needed to be passed so the city wouldn't be obligated to provide jury trials or attorneys for those charged and "to reflect the reality of what we're doing."

The city hasn't given a jail sentence to a first offender for prostitution in decades, according to Jones.

It was also announced Monday that Councilman Mike Stajduhar will resign his seat on Dec. 17. Stajduhar, a Republican who was elected in 2011, said he is moving to Indiana for family reasons.

"I would recommend as many people as possible have this experience," Stajduhar said of his time on council. "It's been a great experience to see how government operates at a local level."

Stajduhar, who serves Ward 7, said the expansion at Edgewood Summit -- which was the addition of the Arthur B. Hodges Center that opened in October -- was a highlight of his service.

"There were some valid reasons for concern, but what we tried to do was to bring ... the neighborhood residents and the Edgewood Summit folks together to see if we could find a solution to allow the expansion to go forward," Stajduhar said of neighborhood concerns about the project.

In other business, council:

* Approved a request to change the name of a new street located in the 1500 block of Connell Road to Patriot Way.

* OK'd an order increasing the cost of curb and sidewalk replacements from $211,500 to $340,200. The work will occur along the 1500 block of Sixth Avenue, the 300 block of Maryland Avenue and the 700 block of Randolph Street.

* Authorized the submission of an application to FEMA for the Charleston Fire Department.

* Approved the purchase of a new police cruiser that will replace a totaled vehicle.

* Passed an ordinance that will close a portion of the 33rd Street right of way in lots 12, 13 and 14 of Block 18 in Kanawha City. The 7,750-square-foot area will be deeded to Charleston Area Medical Center for $12,400. The rest of the area will remain a public right of way.

* OK'd the discontinuation of Twilight Drive and Denton Street in the Coal Branch Heights area as a public right of way. The area will be deeded to the Central West Virginia Regional Airport Authority for $44,000.

Reach Rachel Molenda at rachel.molenda@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5102.


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