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Major opioid trial is paused again because of pandemic, but with possibility of starting remotely

A federal judge has again put a major opioid trial on hold because of the raging spread of coronavirus but wants guidance on how limited aspects of the proceedings could start remotely — “without receiving live testimony by remote means.”

Today made the second time U.S. District Judge David Faber has agreed to push the trial back, although today’s order leaves the trial date “until further order of the court.”

Lawyers for the plaintiffs, Cabell County and the City of Huntington, expressed support of the judge’s willingness to consider alternate means to get the trial going.

“COVID-19 is ravaging our country, and so is the opioid crisis. Both require resources and dedication now to help those in need. While a traditional trial may not be possible, progress can still be made and the facts behind the roles of the distributors in the opioid epidemic revealed. We will work with the court in every way possible to continue pushing the litigation ahead for the sake of suffering communities nationwide,” the lawyers stated.

The trial to determine how wholesalers McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen should be accountable for the costs of opioid addiction in West Virginia communities originally was scheduled to start Oct. 19. The companies deny wrongdoing.

In October, Faber issued an order pushing the trial date to Jan. 4, 2021.

Then on Nov. 30, lawyers for the drug wholesalers requested another delay because there’s no sign the spread of covid-19 would ease by then.

“Since Oct. 9, when the Court continued the previously set October trial date, the covid-19 pandemic — the reason for the continuance — has exploded, entering a new and tragic phase in West Virginia and around the country,” wrote the lawyers for the drug companies.

The companies made clear they are not asking for the case to stop altogether because of covid.

“But, while court business should not stop altogether because of the pandemic, nor can it continue as usual,” they wrote. “These are extraordinary times that call for the court and parties to act as responsibly as possible to avoid contributing unnecessarily to the pandemic.”

Citing the near availability of vaccines to hold the virus at bay, the companies proposed an April 19 trial date.

Faber took a wait-and-see approach but set pretrial conference dates for Jan. 6 and Feb. 3.

The plaintiffs include the Cabell County Commission and City of Huntington, which contend the companies compounded the drug crisis by saturating the region with shipments of prescription painkillers.

The case was part of a group of similar cases being considered in federal court in Cleveland but was released back to U.S. District Court in West Virginia’s Southern District late last year.

On behalf of the communities, the Plaintiffs’ Executive Committee in the National Prescription Opiate Litigation said citizens are dealing with not one but two health crises — the covid pandemic and the opioid epidemic.

Lawyers for Huntington and Cabell County agreed that the rapid rise of covid cases is alarming and could still intensify.

“But it is also undisputed that the opioid crisis continues unabated at the same time,” wrote lawyers for the plaintiffs, contending the opioid crisis and the covid pandemic are intersecting with each other to create unprecedented challenges.

To maintain trial progress, lawyers for the communities proposed embracing streaming technology such as videoconferencing. The lawyers proposed conducting pretrial conferences and even opening trial statements this way. Opening weeks of the trial could also include submission of deposition testimony and other non-testimonial evidence.

Because it’s a bench trial, rather than involving a jury, the plaintiffs suggested the trial could be conducted in phases and adjust to circumstance.

“The seriousness of the ongoing opioid crisis, which as noted above has only been magnified by covid justifies taking an alternative approach that both acknowledges the public health considerations presented by the pandemic while also getting the trial process underway,
so the Plaintiffs have an opportunity to have their cases decided,” wrote lawyers for the communities.

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Huntington, Charleston recognized for LGBTQ inclusion efforts

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia cities of Huntington and Charleston were honored Thursday by a national organization for efforts on LGBTQ inclusion.

Human Rights Campaign Foundation released its 2020 Index Rating for municipalities across the United States on LGBTQ inclusion and West Virginia’s two most populous cities scored over 85.

The City of Huntington received a score of 100 in a scorecard that looks into non-discrimination laws, municipality as an employer, municipal services, law enforcement, and leadership on LGBTQ equality.

The score for Huntington has more than doubled since 2013, the year Steve Williams first took office as mayor. He told the crowd that tuned into the ceremony that the score in the 40s when he arrived bothered him immensely because he knew his community was better than that.

Andrew Schneider

“Huntington should prove to everyone how quickly progress can be made,” Andrew Schneider, executive director of Fairness West Virginia said on Thursday.

“It’s score this year is more than double of what it was six years ago. I hope the entire state of West Virginia takes inspiration from this achievement.”

Williams credits two movements in the city for the improvement on inclusion, the creation of two committees and an ‘Open to All’ campaign. An advisory committee on LGBTQ issues and an advisory committee on diversity began to meet under Williams.

Mayor Steve Williams

The mayor also noted that over 300 Huntington entities including businesses, churches, groups, and institutions have participated in the ‘Open to All’ campaign. He said others have reached out from around the region to join in.

“To be able to make a statement saying ‘we are open to all, that is space is a safe space where everyone is welcome,'” Williams said.

Schneider said Huntington’s campaign has shown the importance of diversity in the workplace.

“We’ve known for a long time that one key to the successes of fortune 500 companies is diversity. This campaign showed that diversity is good for small businesses, too,” he said.

The City of Charleston finished with a score of 92, which is well above the average of cities in West Virginia with 62 out of 100 points. The national average for a municipality is 64.

The national city score average jumped to an all-time high of 64 points, up from 60 last year, marking both the fourth consecutive year of national average increases as well as the highest year-over-year national average growth ever, the release said.

“These All-Star cities are blazing the path forward for equality and fighting back against extreme unrelenting attacks on the LGBTQ community. These cities are sending a strong message that our lives, our families and our community are valuable and valued,” said Alphonso David, President of the Human Rights Campaign in a release.

The full report, including detailed scorecards for every city, as well as a searchable database, is available online at www.hrc.org/mei.

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The Game Within The Game (Episode 29)

College basketball is heating up with some big matchups, college football is coming down the stretch of the regular season and week 13 of the NFL season is on deck. Brad Howe and Julian Edlow of DraftKings break down key matchups from each sport, including:

*Saturday’s (Dec 5) Baylor – Gonzaga basketball game

*Do big numbers on Ohio State and Oklahoma (football) scare you away?

*Has Texas football packed it in for the year? (-7 vs Kansas St on Saturday)

*Two ‘hold your nose’ underdogs in the NFL that could be worth a play

*A massive coaching mismatch coming up on Sunday in the NFL

*A 3-team NFL ML parlay that holds value

*Best bet (hint…it’s an upcoming college basketball game)

All of that and more in the latest episode of The Game Within The Game presented by DraftKings.

New users on DraftKings Sportsbookremember  to use code METROGAME for a special sign up bonus offer.

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Caresource MetroNews Top Plays of 2020 (Class A)

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Check out all of the best plays from the 2020 high school football season in Class A. Thanks to all of the coaches, players and parents who submitted plays throughout the season.

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Three Guys Before The Game – Bulldogs and Cyclones (Episode 249)

A double episode of Three Guys reviews the Mountaineer basketball game against Gonzaga and previews Saturday’s football clash with Iowa State. 

Brad Howe, Hoppy Kercheval and Tony Caridi perform a post-game analysis of WVU’s attempt to knock off the top-rated Zags.  Are WVU’s errors correctable or will they linger?

In football, what will it take to calm the Cyclones?  Can the Mountaineers handle Iowa State’s unique offensive attack?  Will the unexpected layoff leave WVU fresh or rusty?

Answer to those questions along with listener texts, Tweets and calls come your way on the 249th episode of Three Guys Before The Game.

Three Guys Before The Game is brought to you by Mardis Gras Casino and Resort, Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack and Burdette Camping Center. Look cool by wearing Three Guys merchandise.

Never miss an episode, subscribe below.

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Caresource MetroNews Top Plays of 2020 (Class AA)

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Check out all of the best plays from the 2020 high school football season in Class AA. Thanks to all of the coaches, players and parents who submitted plays throughout the season.

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W.Va. Senator Hardesty submits resignation letter, ending his term a few weeks early

State Senator Paul Hardesty, D-Logan, who had already declined to run for re-election, has submitted a letter of resignation.

His resignation became effective at the start of the month. Republican Rupie Phillips, a former state delegate, won the seat a few weeks ago. New senators are to be sworn in Jan. 13.

Hardesty, who has spent 24 years in a variety of government roles, said in a telephone interview that he’d submitted retirement papers to the state, including for the past couple of years in the Senate.

“Nothing magical about my resignation. It coincided with my retirement from the state,” he said.

Hardesty was a lobbyist for The Greenbrier with a longstanding relationship with Gov. Jim Justice, whose family owns the resort. During the past electoral cycle, Hardesty served as vice chairman of the Justice campaign’s finance committee.

Rumors have been circulating for the past few weeks that Hardesty was under consideration for a leadership role in the Governor’s Office. Today, Hardesty acknowledged that he’d heard those rumors too but said he has no intention of taking a full-time government job.

“I have no intentions of going back and being a full-fledged employee in this administration,” he said.

Under normal circumstances, the Senate might be active this time of year with interim meetings and with preparation for the upcoming legislative session.

But social distancing precautions because of the coronavirus pandemic have meant legislators have not had their normal off-season meetings. The regular session is delayed in gubernatorial election cycles by a month to account for organizational and inauguration activities. So the regular session is kicked to Feb. 10 this coming year.

“Since we are not meeting and didn’t have any plans to meet I thought I would go ahead and do so,” Hardesty said of retirement.

Hardesty, 58, has worked in a variety of government capacities over the years, including as a Logan County school board member, a county administrator in Logan and at the state Development Office.

He was appointed by the governor to the state Senate in early 2019 to fill a seat that had been vacated by Richard Ojeda, who mounted a short-lived presidential campaign.

To do so, he submitted his lobbyist resignation to the state and now cannot resume any lobbying work for another year.

“I’ll still do other things, but lobbying won’t be one of them. I don’t know that I’ll go back to lobbying completely,” Hardesty said today. “I’m just going to look at options right now.”

Although he said he would not work full-time for the Governor’s Office, Hardesty did not rule out helping the governor in some way.

“I would help this governor in any capacity I could help him,” Justice said.

Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, who lost a primary election race, was also widely rumored to be taking a role in the Justice administration but put out a statement on Oct. 21 to refute that.

“Rumor is in a 2nd Justice term, I would serve as COS. This is news to both Gov and me. We meet often, but have never discussed it,” Carmichael said on Twitter.

Hardesty in a resignation letter addressed to Carmichael, said he appreciated his time in the Senate.

“I have been blessed beyond measure to represent the Seventh District as a Senator,” he wrote. “I have tried to serve faithfully, with a level head and heart for the people of my district,” he wrote.

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State system now being used to track state vendors with tax debts

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — More than $10 million in money owed to West Virginia is what J.B. McCuskey, the state’s auditor, said has been collected — thus far — from vendors with state contracts in the initial phase of a tracking program utilizing the wvOASIS state system.

With wvOASIS, “What I determined very quickly is that we paid for a lot of stuff and a lot of usefulness that we weren’t actually using,” McCuskey said on Thursday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”

State Auditor J.B. McCuskey

“I brought in some private sector folks and I said, ‘Why don’t we figure out how do we get the actual usefulness that we’ve paid for out of OASIS?'”

Under the resulting Vendor Intercept Program, state vendors who owe state taxes are identified through the state Tax Department and then notified through emails or letters to settle up with the state or face stopped payments and a withholding of business for noncompliance.

Those in the Auditor’s Office do not see the delinquent list, according to McCuskey.

The overall goal of the program, which has been in place for more than a year now, is to make sure the state is not paying vendors who are not paying their taxes.

“In Phase II, which will start in just a few months, we’ll actually collect the money automatically,” McCuskey said.

He estimated the program could eventually lead to collections of between $15 million and $20 million annually in money owed to the state. That money will go back into general revenue.

“Just in this first year, the amount of money collected, I believe, is fairly astronomical and we think it’s going to grow exponentially as the program reaches Phase II.”

.@McCuskeyforWV speaks with @HoppyKercheval about the Vendor Inspect Program, which has collected 10-million dollars for the state in the last year. WATCH: https://t.co/wkudfIRZCB pic.twitter.com/FYXKDbcVbz

— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) December 3, 2020

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Fayette County man facing charges over fight with off-duty deputy

HICO, W.Va. — A Fayette County man is jailed in lieu of $1 million bond after an incident that started with a stolen trail camera on a Fayette County hunting lease.

Natural Resources Police Officer Dave Hylton said he was dispatched to the area after the reported theft of the cellular camera on Sunday.

“This type of crime involving a stolen camera, we’re looking at different kinds of offenses like interfering with hunters, grand larceny, and several other charges depending on what occurred,” said Hylton.

Prior to Hylton’s arrival on the scene, things had significantly escalated well beyond just a stolen camera. One of the leaseholders had received a picture on his phone from the cameras which showed the man taking it. The culprit was identified by the victim and another individual, Fayette County Sheriff’s Deputy Coty Pierson, as Henry Joe Ward, 40, of Hico.

According to the criminal complaint Pierson, who was off duty at the time, and the man who owned the camera went to Ward’s camp to confront him about the alleged theft. They had also contacted law enforcement and informed Ward they were on the way.

The complaint alleges Ward became increasingly agitated and made several threatening remarks like, “You’re lucky you’re still alive.”

The complaint further indicated the off duty deputy restrained Ward temporarily until he “calmed down.” When released, the complaint states Ward went to his truck and acted as if he was smoking a cigarette and making a phone call. He also stated, “That badge doesn’t scare me you’re lucky you’re still breathing I don’t care if you wear it or not.”

The complaint alleges Ward pulled a pistol and pointed it at Pierson’s stomach. In a scuffle for the gun, one shot was fired which struck the ground. Pierson was able to disarm Ward, who tried to retrieve a loaded rifle from his truck during the fight. The complaint said Pierson was able to drag Ward from the truck where the fight went on for several more minutes until a National Park Service Ranger arrived and handcuffed Ward.

When Hylton arrived, the investigation was turned over to him.

“There’s numerous charges; malicious assault on a police officer, attempted first-degree murder, trespassing, there’s numerous charges he’s faced with,” said Hylton.

Hylton declined to say more about the investigation which is ongoing.

It’s unclear if Pierson or the original victim were injured in the melee. Ward had substantial bruising and swelling to his face in his mug shot and his shirt was covered in blood.

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Nicholas County man sentenced in connection with wife’s death

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A Nicholas County man will remain in prison after Kanawha County Circuit Judge Tod Kaufman accepted a plea agreement in connection with his missing wife’s death.

Arthur ‘Owen’ Woods, 42, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter last week before being sentenced  Thursday via video by Kaufman to three years in prison.

Woods was initially charged with first-degree murder in the death of Starina Woods, 34, in May 2019 and pleaded not guilty. Starina Woods went missing in March 2016, shortly after the couple moved to Charleston, and her body has never been found.

Arthur Woods

During his plea hearing on November 24, Woods took a Kennedy plea in the case. That meant Woods did not admit guilt but contends the state has enough evidence to convict him if the case went to trial. The Kanawha County Prosecutor’s Office and Woods’ defense team reached the binding plea agreement.

Woods did not make a statement on Thursday.

According to investigators, Woods never reported his wife missing, telling authorities she had left for Ecuador. In October 2016, authorities were investigating her disappearance as a homicide.

MetroNews previously reported on the case where investigators said that Starina Woods voiced concerns about being in an abusive relationship. Authorities discovered bloodstains at the couple’s home on Lance Drive in Charleston during the investigation.

In 2018, Woods was charged for using his spouse’s debit card until the bank froze the account.

Woods has been incarcerated in the South Central Regional Jail for more than a year since his initial arrest. He will receive credit for time served.

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