- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 15, 2014

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - The West Virginia Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the attorney general can’t help county prosecutors with their criminal cases.

Chief Justice Robin Davis let stand the legal opinion previously handed down by the state Office of Disciplinary Counsel and Lawyer Disciplinary Board, which said Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s lawyers can’t serve as assistant prosecutors.

Morrisey appealed the ruling to the state’s highest court in June.

Preston County prosecutor Mel Snyder had requested Morrisey’s help in June, saying sexual assault, drug crime and public corruption cases had overwhelmed his office, according to court filings.

Mingo County Commissioner Greg “Hootie” Smith also asked for Morrisey’s help last year, the attorney general said in his petition to the court.

Smith asked if one of Morrisey’s lawyers could fill in as interim prosecuting attorney and potentially accept the job full time. The previous prosecutor, Michael Sparks, resigned while facing federal corruption charges.

The Disciplinary Council and Lawyer Disciplinary Board said the attorney general lacks statutory or constitutional authority to assist county prosecutors with criminal cases. The state Prosecuting Attorneys Association also opposed Morrisey’s request.

The Supreme Court agreed, saying that any common law power Morrisey thinks he has to prosecute the cases is trumped by the state’s constitution and statutes.

The attorney general can only assist county prosecutors when there are issues in state correctional facilities. Even then, the county prosecutor needs to prove to a judge that the office has budget constraints, the court ruled.

Morrisey’s office expressed disappointment with the decision.

“While we do not believe the Supreme Court has correctly decided the question of whether this Office may assist prosecutors when asked, we will abide by the Court’s opinion,” said Beth Gorczyca Ryan, Morrisey spokeswoman.

Justice Brent Benjamin concurred in parts of the ruling, but dissented in others. He can file a separate opinion.

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