As a result of a dispute between one or more members of the Greenbrier County Commission and Greenbrier County prosecuting attorney Patrick I. Via, an action has been delayed in a court case involving contested funds given to New River Community and Technical College by the Greenbrier County Commission for renovation of a swimming pool located on the Greenbrier Valley Campus in Lewisburg.
A hearing was held on Wednesday, March 5, before Judge H. L. Kirkpatrick, III, Circuit Court of Raleigh County, on the request of the New River Community and Technical College Foundation to turn the disputed funds over to the court and be discharged from any further responsibility for the money. The college and the Greenbrier County Commission are parties in that case, and each has asserted a claim to the funds. The foundation has been holding the funds on behalf of the college.
At the hearing, Via, counsel for the County Commission, filed a new motion to continue (postpone) the hearing until a later date, because he is withdrawing as counsel for the County Commission in the case. He stated that he does not believe he can continue to represent the County Commission because of a conflict or controversy between himself and at least one member of the Commission, and asked that the court postpone consideration of the request to deposit the money with the court until the Commission can get a different lawyer to argue its position on that issue.
"I don't know the nature or cause of the controversy between the County Commission and its attorney, but the effect is just further delay in resolving this dispute, and more expense for the foundation, the college, and the citizens of Greenbrier County," said Robert Richardson, counsel for the New River CTC Foundation.
Asked by Kirkpatrick if the County Commission actually opposed the request to turn the funds over to the court, Via answered that the County Commission does oppose the request, and should have the opportunity for a lawyer of their choosing to present their argument on the issue. As a result, the hearing was continued, and has not yet been rescheduled
"It is astounding to me that the County Commission would actually oppose having the court hold the money while the case is pending. It seems that the County Commission is intent on making this case as expensive and time-consuming as possible for everyone involved," Richardson said.
The interpleader action was filed by the foundation last November. The disputed funds were given to the college by the Greenbrier County Commission in 2012 for the purpose of renovating an indoor swimming pool in a building owned by college. The pool was to have been operated by the county for use by the general public. The County Commission had asked the college for use of that portion of the building, and the college had agreed to lease that portion to the county for $1 per year.
The allocation of funds was later challenged in a civil suit and determined to have been made illegally. After the court ruled that hotel/motel tax money could not be used for the project because the county did not own the building, the college offered to deed the portion of the building to the county, but commissioners turned down the offer and demanded the return of all of the money given to the college for the project.
The college did return $300,000, but refused to return the entire amount because expenses had already been incurred for architects, engineers and infrastructure improvements in anticipation of the pool being part of their renovation of the rest of the building for use by the college. The college asked the Commission to negotiate a fair settlement for the amount expended on the project, but requests for negotiation or mediation were refused. The foundation then filed the interpleader action in an attempt to have the $1 million placed in the hands of the court to decide the fate of the funds.
More than a month after the foundation filed the interpleader case, the County Commission filed a suit against the foundation in Greenbrier County Circuit Court requesting that the foundation be ordered to return the money. The Commission did not name the college as a party in that case. Because the judges of the Greenbrier County Circuit Court were disqualified from hearing the case, it was assigned to Judge John W. Hatcher, Jr., of Fayette County.
There will be a hearing on April 2 before Hatcher relating to the foundation's motion to dismiss the case on the grounds that the County Commission failed to include a necessary party to the dispute (the college itself), and on the grounds that the entire dispute was already before the court in the case pending in Raleigh County.
Richardson is representing the foundation in both cases. The college is represented by Brian Lutz, who is an assistant attorney general.