Gazette-Mail editorial: Failures in the legal system have alarming consequences

It’s not one thing that goes wrong. It’s a series of mistakes or failures that lead up to a disaster. That’s an old cliche about airline crashes, but it has plenty of other applications.

Greg White’s story is a good example. He served a six-month home confinement sentence in the late 2000s on charges out of Marion County. In 2011, he was put back in jail for violating his probation. By March 2012, he had served the original sentence, but remained in jail because of charges related to the probation violation. Those charges were dismissed by the judge in November of that same year. White should’ve been released, but would remain in jail for 433 more days, according to a Gazette-Mail article.

White’s attorney, David Anderson, never informed anyone, including his client, that he was free to go. A prosecutor who should’ve informed the circuit clerk’s office about the dropped charges failed to do so. The circuit clerk’s office, which is responsible for criminal records, should’ve seen the order and relayed to the jail that White needed to be released. That never happened. The judge reportedly didn’t have any contact with the circuit clerk’s office or jail regarding the case, either.

White, oblivious that he was supposed to be a free man, made frequent calls and penned numerous letters to his attorney and to more than one judge, seeking a status update on his case. It wasn’t until he reached out to a different attorney that the problem was discovered. White left incarceration more than a year and two months later than he should have, because of a breakdown in every single line of communication designed to make sure something like that doesn’t happen.

The original case that started all of this was a 2007 charge of distributing and exhibiting material depicting minors engaged in a sexual act. What White pleaded to is reprehensible, and he will have to live with that for the rest of his life. That doesn’t mean his attorney should’ve completely ignored him (earlier this year, the Supreme Court suspended Anderson from practicing law for six months because of his absentee representation, though he served less than that). Other lines of communication shouldn’t have failed. An inmate served his time, and should’ve been released.

White’s case is known because of the disciplinary action against his attorney and a civil suit against Anderson and several government entities. Think about how many people this may have happened to that no one knows about. It could be happening to inmates right now.

Take White out of it completely, and think of the regional jail costs that are submerging county budgets across the state. Housing inmates past their release doesn’t do anything to help that.

Taking away someone’s freedom, no matter what they are found guilty of, is a very serious process. Yes, West Virginia’s criminal justice system is overrun with cases, but that doesn’t justify ignoring clients or failing to follow the proper chain of communication.

Funerals for Thursday, December 12, 2019

Aide Jr., Mitchell - Noon, Tyree Funeral Home, Oak Hill.

Banks, Betty - 11 a.m., Stevens & Grass Funeral Home, Malden.

Barnett, Harry - 1 p.m., Mountain View Memorial Park, Richwood.

Bennett, Mary - 2 p.m., Lantz Funeral Home, Alderson.

Fortney, Etta - 2 p.m., Handley Funeral Home, Danville.

Goolsby, Neva - 11 a.m., Ridgelawn Memorial Park Abbey of Devotion, Huntington.

Harris, Carl - 1 p.m., Armstrong Funeral Home, Whitesville.

Hartley, Roberta - 1 p.m., Roush Funeral Home, Ravenswood.

Holbrook, Ralph - 11 a.m., Leonard Johnson Funeral Home, Marmet.

Holstine, Drema - 1:30 p.m., Fidler & Frame Funeral Home, Belle.

Paxton, Justine - Noon, John H. Taylor Funeral Home, Spencer.

Pulliam, Robert - 5:30 p.m., Cross Point Church of God, Beckley.

Runion, Vance - 2 p.m., Tyler Mountain Memory Gardens, Cross Lanes.

Taylor, Ford - 2 p.m., Donel C. Kinnard Memorial State Veterans Cemetery, Dunbar.

Smith, Roberta - 1 p.m., Taylor-Vandale Funeral Home, Spencer.

Stout Jr., Bernard - 2 p.m., Dodd & Reed Funeral Home, Webster Springs.

Walker, Atha - 1 p.m., Bartlett-Nichols Funeral Home, St. Albans.