ELIZABETH - The case against Wirt County Assessor Debbie Hennen, facing charges of intimidating witnesses, was dismissed Thursday after it was determined the special prosecutor appointed to handle the case lacked the proper paperwork.
Hennen, 52, was scheduled to appear Thursday in Wirt County Magistrate Court for a trial before special magistrate Emily Bradley. With a pool of 30 potential jurors standing by, Bradley dismissed the case without prejudice because Roane County Prosecutor Josh Downey had not officially been named as special prosecutor in this case.
Because the case was dismissed without prejudice, prosecutors have up to a year to refile the charges, Downey said.
Downey expects the Wirt County Prosecutor's Office to have the proper paperwork filed within a few days, naming him the special prosecutor and they will refile the charges of witness intimidation against Hennen, he said.
''It is a delay and it is unfortunate the jurors were here,'' Downey said. ''It was a pure technicality.
''It was nothing intentional on anyone's part. We'll work through it and be back here in a couple of weeks.''
Hennen, who has been the Wirt County assessor since 1997, was found guilty last month of fraudulent falsification of a record where Downey acted as the special prosecutor. The case came from an investigation last year by the West Virginia State Police that involved Hennen allegedly writing up a time sheet for a deputy assessor in her office and marking times the employee had not actually worked.
Hennen was fined $100 and court costs. She did not serve any jail time for that charge.
Through the course of the initial investigation into the record falsification charge, additional charges of witness intimidation were brought forth. Hennen is accused of threatening the county's deputy assessors, Terri Valentine and Rosemary Donaldson, in regard to the investigation.
''During that investigation this issue came up, the intimidation of the witnesses,'' Downey said. ''I was the prosecutor during the investigation and we all assumed I was going to be the prosecutor for these additional charges since they came out of that initial investigation.''
Officials later said the proper paperwork had not been filed to allow Downey to act as the special prosecutor dealing specifically with the charges of witness intimidation.
Defense attorney Michele Rusen made the motion to dismiss the case.
''A prosecuting attorney had not been appointed to this case,'' said attorney Walt Auvil of the law firm of Rusen and Auvil, who was representing Hennen. ''The prosecutor cannot act if they have not been appointed.''
Bradley brought up the timing of the motion and the fact the jurors had already been brought in and had to be paid for serving.
Rusen said Hennen had a right to a speedy trial and they were ready to proceed, with a number of witnesses ready to testify.
''We are here and ready to go,'' Rusen said, adding it was not her job to make sure the prosecution was properly prepared.
When Downey was initially appointed special prosecutor, Wirt County Prosecutor Leslie Maze said that would cover any charges coming from that investigation.
''Even though Josh has already appeared in hearings relating to the case, this issue came up (Thursday),'' she said. ''To correct that issue, we'll renew the order specifying he is the prosecutor for both the prior charges and subsequent charges.
''We'll appoint Josh Downey as the special prosecutor before those charges are refiled.''