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Right Decision

Supreme Court was right to uphold firing

Many of us have been startled from time to time by revelations about people with whom we were close. We didn’t really know them at all.

Simona Southall insisted that was the situation with her boyfriend in June 2017, Jonathan Brockman. The two, along with their son, lived in Fayette County, West Virginia.

That month, federal agents raided their home. Thirty pounds of marijuana, more than 130 grams of oxycodone, more than $182,000 in cash, 11 guns, and other illegal drug-related items were seized. A device used to handle heroin, along with a bag of marijuana, was found in a child’s play area.

Brockman eventually pleaded guilty to drug-related charges and was sentenced to nine years in prison. Southall was not arrested.

She worked as a parole officer — you know, checking on people who have served time for crimes, then have been released. Parole officers are supposed to ensure those they monitor have not gone back to lives of crime.

She was fired from her job. Incredibly, an administrative judge with the West Virginia Public Employees Grievance Board decided she had been wronged, and ordered she be reinstated.

A circuit judge upheld the firing. Southall appealed to the state Supreme Court, which in a 4-1 decision (Justice John Hutchison dissenting) said the lower court judge was right.

In their ruling, justices concluded that Southall “either willfully or incompetently ignored substantial evidence of drug trafficking occurring under her nose” and was “terminated for good cause.”

That seems obvious — except, apparently, to the state administrative judge.

Both the circuit court and a majority on the Supreme Court understood clearly why Southall could not continue to work as a parole officer. The question in West Virginians’ minds ought to be why the Grievance Board administrative judge sided with her.

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