TAYLOR COUNTY—Taylor County has seen a drastic increase in the amount of Abuse and Neglect cases, as the community continues to struggle with an ongoing drug crisis.
To help ensure that cases are being handled in a timely manner, the Taylor County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, as well as the Nineteenth Judicial Circuit, which encompasses Taylor and Barbour Counties, added staff to their rosters.
Over a year ago, former Taylor County Assistant Prosecutor Shawn Nines was sworn in as the newest judge in the circuit.
“The amount of cases has exploded in the past five years, but even ore so in the last two or three years,” Nines said in a previous interview with the Mountain Statesman. “It has nearly doubled each year in recent history. Because of the confidential nature of the cases, many people do not realize that we are handling three Abuse and Neglect cases to every one criminal case.”
Because of an ever-growing case load, the West Virginia Legislature passed Senate Bill 528, which called for the addition of a Circuit Court Judge, after the National Center for State Courts and West Virginia Circuit Judge Workload Study Advisory Committee performed a study.
The study placed the 19th Circuit near the top of all state circuits for need of an additional judge, after the substantial and stead increase in the number of cases before the Circuit Court.
While Nines focuses his attention on cases being handled in Barbour County, Judge Alan D. Moats continues to work with the Taylor County Prosecutor’s Office to address cases locally.
Because the number of cases continued to rise in Taylor County, throughout the year, Taylor County Prosecuting Attorney John Bord added to his staff, with the sole purpose of relieving the caseload of each member of the team.
Alongside Bord and Assistant Prosecutor Christopher Miller, Taylor County is being served by Assistant Prosecuting Attorneys Clair Niehaus and Rachel Bickel.
Bord shared that he was happy to expand his staff and that it would better serve those with cases being held through Taylor County Circuit Court.
“With the increase of cases, we were having a hard time keeping up, so the addition of Clair and Rachel was the perfect solution. They have been hard at work handling the ins and outs of each case,” said Bord.
The prosecutor’s office isn’t initially involved in an abuse and neglect case, but when called on they are ready to do their part.
First, a referral has to be made to the Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR), who will investigate the claim.
After a complaint is made, the DHHR is required to act within 72 hours. A great deal of questions are asked during the claim process, and if they feel it to be a valid complaint, they will send investigators out.
Following the completion of the investigation, services will be offered to families to help remedy any situation, and resolve the issue, as long as the child isn’t in immediate danger. If the situation is not taken care of, or if investigators find signs of physical or sexual abuse, a petition is filed with the Taylor County Circuit Clerk, and that’s when the prosecutors get involved.
“The prosecuting attorney’s office then becomes council for the DHHR. Children are appointed their own council, called a Guardian ad Litem, who is not affiliated with the DHHR or prosecutors,” explained Bord. “Parents and guardians are also appointed their own council individually, too. So, these cases tend to be extremely long.”
If it has been determined that the parents or legal guardian are not suitable to care for the child properly, the DHHR will remove the youth from the home. According to officials, the department will attempt to place the child with family members, first before turning to the foster care system.
Because of the nature of the cases, the legislature has determined that child abuse and neglect cases take priority over all other cases, except for criminal trials already in progress or domestic violence appeals.
“If I were to have a murder trial scheduled the same day as an abuse case, I would have to postpone my murder trial, because these cases have been deemed a priority,” Bord disclosed. “I just want people to know that the system works, the problem is that there is such a high number of these cases right now. We are doing all we can to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the children of Taylor County.”