By Ken Bustin
Hardy County Prosecutor Lucas See and the Hardy County Commission were named Defendants in two civil actions brought last week by Prosecutor’s Office employees Jessica Liller and Laiken Shoemaker.
The lawsuits, which were rumored to be in the offing for several weeks, were filed in Hardy County Court last Monday. Although each Plaintiff filed a separate Complaint, it is likely the two cases will be tried together. Each contains the same four Counts against See – Sexual Harassment, Retaliation, Battery and False Imprisonment.
Attempts to contact See and Assistant Prosecutor Orin Staggers, both for comment on the case and to determine if there are changes in the Prosecutor’s Office operations during the pendency of the civil case and criminal investigation, were unsuccessful, and neither returned the calls. [private]
View full copies of both Complaints at:
However, last Thursday Attorney Jared T. Moore of Morgantown contacted the Examiner. He is representing See personally – See is also being sued in his official capacity – and requested that See have the opportunity to respond publicly to the charges made in the lawsuit. In his letter, Moore asked that the Examiner publish See’s comments “…in a separate article, situated in a conspicuous location, and titled: “Lucas See Emphatically Denies Allegation by Employees” and offered the following quote for publication:
“Hardy County Prosecuting Attorney Lucas J. See emphatically denies engaging in any type of sexual harassment or misconduct. The recently filed lawsuits contain mere allegations, nothing more. The allegations are completely false and the truth will ultimately come to light in court. Despite being sued for something he did not do, Mr. See has and will continue to remain focused on serving and protecting the people of Hardy County through the successful prosecution of those who violate the law.”
Liller and Shoemaker remain on administrative leave. Asked to clarify if See intended to step aside during the pendency of the lawsuit, Moore said that he did not.
Charleston law firm Atkinson & Polak, PLLC represents both women, with the Complaints listing a team of three attorneys: Mark Atkinson, Paul Frampton and John-Mark Atkinson.
Reached for comment last Tuesday, Mark Atkinson was reserved, mostly declining any comment, but offering that he felt that the Complaints would speak for themselves, and that this was “an important case.”
The Complaints are detailed, alleging and describing a number of separate incidents in which See is accused of various acts of improper behavior of a sexual nature, such as what’s described in this excerpt from Liller’s Complaint:
…During her employment, the Plaintiff was subjected to unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal and physical conduct of a sexual nature by her direct supervisor, Defendant Lucas J. See. For instance, during her employment Plaintiff’s supervisor Defendant Lucas J. See engaged in the following behavior:
a.) Defendant See frequently made vulgar comments of a sexual nature to the Plaintiff in the workplace.
b.) When Defendant See’s father was sick, Plaintiff asked if there was anything she could do to help. Defendant See replied that Plaintiff could “suck his c…” Defendant See admitted making this statement to employees at the Courthouse.
c.) Defendant See frequently made comments about the Plaintiff’s breasts, including requesting that the Plaintiff show him her breasts.
d.) Defendant See requested multiple times for the Plaintiff to let him suck her breasts.
e.) Defendant See requested multiple times for the Plaintiff to let him ejaculate on her breasts.
f.) Defendant See frequently touched the Plaintiff inappropriately at work, including groping her breasts.
g.) Defendant See frequently pulled his penis out at work and requested the Plaintiff to give him oral or vaginal sex.
h.) Defendant See used his position, power, stature and, at times, physical force, to compel the Plaintiff to engage in sexual acts with him. On each occasion where such acts occurred the interaction began with Plaintiff rejecting Defendant See’s advances.
i.) At times Defendant See would lock the door to the office and/or block the Plaintiff’s path of exit in order to initiate a sexual encounter with the Plaintiff. At times, Defendant See also physically restrained the Plaintiff in order to compel her to engage in sexual acts with him. Defendant See did not have justification or consent to restrain the Plaintiff to a bounded area.
j.) In December 2021 while attending a Prosecutors’ Conference in Charleston, West Virginia, Defendant See blocked the Plaintiff from the exit in his hotel room. Defendant See then began to kiss the Plaintiff. When she stepped away and told him not to touch her, he grabbed her arms tightly to restrain her before pulling out his penis, demanding the Plaintiff show him her breasts, and ejaculating on the floor.
In late 2021, Liller first made a complaint against See’s behavior to the West Virginia State Police. Soon after, Shoemaker made a similar report to police. A criminal investigation remains ongoing, and two Special Prosecutors have been appointed to oversee the matter. Contacted last week for comment, the first, Attorney Carl Harris of Glen Ferris, W.Va., declined, saying, “…you have someone closer to home you can talk to about it…,” while the second, Attorney Pamela Jean Gaines-Neely of Kearneysville, never returned calls.
Upon notifying the Prosecutor’s Office of their report, Liller and Shoemaker were immediately placed on administrative leave, and all of their keys and equipment collected from them. Despite being the subject of the complaint, See was not placed on leave.
The Hardy County Commission called an emergency meeting on December 23, 2021, with Assistant County Prosecutor Orin Staggers to discuss “personnel and a possible lawsuit.” The discussion was conducted in executive session and no action was taken.
Subsequently, Liller and Shoemaker retained counsel and proceeded with the lawsuit.
The Hardy County Commission is also named in the lawsuits as the actual employer of both women. However, the Complaints charge the Commission with failing to investigate the women’s charges or taking any action to prevent or mitigate See’s alleged behavior. In Paragraph 14 of the recitation of facts, Liller’s Complaint states that: “Defendant Hardy County Commission knew or should have known that Defendant See was engaging in inappropriate conduct of a sexual nature in the workplace. However, Defendant Hardy County Commission did nothing to address the behavior.” Paragraph 19 further alleges “Defendant Hardy County Commission to investigate the allegations.” Paragraph 20 charges that the Commission failed to act appropriately to attempt to remove See from his office, saying, “Despite its knowledge (or willful ignorance) Defendant Hardy County Commission chose not to pursue a resolution to remove Defendant See from office pursuant to W.Va. Code §6-6-7(b)(1)(A).”
Under that section of the Code, a process to remove County officers is clarified. The section states that any officer, appointed or elected, “may be removed from such office in the manner provided in this section for official misconduct, neglect of duty, incompetence or for any of the causes or on any of the grounds provided by any other statute.” The Code goes on to say that charges may be proffered against any such official “(A) By a duly enacted resolution of the county commission which sets forth therein the name and office of the challenged officer, the alleged wrongful acts, the dates the alleged acts occurred and the grounds for removal as provided in this article.”
The Code goes on to prescribe that: “c) When removal is proffered by a duly enacted resolution of a county commission or municipal governing body, a certified copy of the resolution shall be served by the clerk of the commission or municipal governing body upon the circuit court in whose jurisdiction the officer serves within five business days of adoption of the resolution. The proffering county commission or municipal governing body shall be responsible for the prosecution of the removal resolution…”
“(g) The court, or judge thereof in vacation, or in the case of any multi-judge circuit, the chief judge thereof, shall have authority to evaluate any resolution or petition for any procedural defect, and to consider all the allegations made in the resolution or petition in light of the applicable case law and the required strict construction of the grounds asserted, and conclude whether or not the allegations asserted would be sufficient, if proven by clear and convincing evidence, to warrant the removal of the officer from office…”
“… If the court finds that the resolution or petition is sufficient under the standards for removal set forth herein to proceed to a hearing before a three-judge court, the court shall forward a copy of the resolution or petition to the Supreme Court of Appeals.”
“Upon receipt of said resolution or petition, the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Appeals shall, not fewer than twenty days from the date of the receipt of the resolution or petition, designate and appoint three circuit judges within the state, not more than one of whom shall be from the same circuit in which the resolution or petition was filed and, in the order of such appointment, shall require that the three-judge court designate the date, time and place for the hearing of the resolution or petition forthwith.
Such three-judge court shall, without a jury, hear the charges, any motions filed by either party and all evidence offered in support thereof or in opposition thereto, and upon satisfactory proof of the charges by clear and convincing evidence, shall remove any such officer from office and place the records, papers and property of his office in the possession of some other officer or person for safekeeping or in the possession of the person appointed as hereinafter provided to fill the office temporarily. Any final order either removing or refusing to remove any such person from office shall contain such findings of fact and conclusions of law as the three-judge court shall deem sufficient to support its decision of all issues presented to it in the matter.”
Before the suits were actually filed, Commissioner David Workman — the only Commissioner willing to speak — said the Commission discussed the matter after receiving Liller’s letter to them earlier this year, but felt that the letter lacked sufficient specifics to allow the Commission to act, as well as believing that the Commission had no power to effect removal of an elected official. In a subsequent conversation with Workman, after the suit had been filed, he said that he felt further comment would be inappropriate, and that the matter would be referred to legal counsel for appropriate action. Commissioners David Fansler and Steve Schetrom never responded to telephone calls. [/private]