CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK)—A Boone County prosecutor is facing disciplinary board charges after court documents say she hired her boyfriend as an assistant prosecutor, among other instances of alleged misconduct.

A Statement of Charges outlined five separate charges:

1. According to a Statement of Charges against Donna E. Taylor, an assistant prosecutor in her office resigned in January of 2021, and Taylor hired her boyfriend, Branden Ledford for the position, which paid $80,000 per year plus benefits.

Court records say that another attorney on staff reported to the West Virginia Ethics Commission (WVEC) their concern about the personal relationship between Taylor and Ledford, and in March of 2021, the WVEC found that Mr. Ledford received an unfair advantage in being hired to the position. The WVEC said that the hire violated the Ethics Act’s private gain provision and said that Ms. Taylor could no longer employ Mr. Ledford.

The Statement of Charges said “Because [Ms. Taylor] improperly employed her boyfriend, and in doing so used her office for her own private gain and/or private gain of another person, she created an impermissible conflict between her own interests and those of her client.”

2. The Statement of Charges said that Judge William S. Thompson entered an Administrative Order in May of 2021 saying that a large number of orders from abuse and neglect and juvenile cases had not been prepared by the Boone County Prosecutor’s Office. Specifically, he listed 98 missing orders from cases where hearings had taken place.

Judge Thompson said in the order that it was the “long-standing practice of the Boone County Circuit Court to require the Boone County Prosecutor’s Office to prepare orders in abuse and neglect cases.” Further, Rule 24.01(a) of the West Virginia Trial Court Rules states, in part, “Unless otherwise directed by the presiding judicial officer, all orders shall be submitted to the judicial officer promptly, but no later than 11 days after having been directed to do so by the court.”

Judge Thompson called the delays in orders being submitted “inexcusable” and gave the prosecutor’s office five days to come up with a written plan to prepare the 98 missing orders. He also ordered them to fully prepare all missing orders within 11 days.

Court records say that Ms. Taylor attributed the delay in the processing of the orders to staffing and COVID-19-related quarantines. The Statement of Charges said that Ms. Taylor violated the Rules of Professional Conduct regarding competence, diligence, and fairness to opposing party and counsel.

3. Between January of 2022 and November of 2022, Ms. Taylor’s office was provided 84 releases of judgment after payments were made in full, but court records say she only filed one of them. Per West Virginia Code § 50-3-2a(g), once a payment is made if full, the Magistrate Court Clerk is responsible for notifying the prosecutor that the debt has been satisfied. Then, the prosecuting attorney should file the release of judgment with the office of the clerk of the county commission.

Court records say that later in November of 2022, Ms. Taylor filed 25 releases of judgment for cases for which payments were made between September 3, 2021, and Feb. 28, 2022. The Statement of Charges says that 15 more releases of judgment were not filed by Ms. Taylor for cases between Dec. 1, 2022, and Jan. 31, 2023. The court document says that Ms. Taylor’s failure to prepare abstracts of judgment and releases of judgment in a timely manner violated Rules of Professional Conduct.

4. In May of 2022, Judge Stacy L. Nowicki-Eldridge, a Circuit Court Judge for the 25th Judicial Circuit of West Virginia, submitted a complaint to the Office of Lawyer Disciplinary Counsel (ODC) saying that she had concerns about the experience and knowledge level of Ms. Taylor. Judge Nowicki-Eldridge said that Ms. Taylor made improper requests for the Court to take judicial notice, had little knowledge of how to lay foundation for exhibits, and was “seemingly unaware of the process needed to refresh a witness’s recollection.”

She also said that Ms. Taylor presented many insufficient indictments, failed to cite proper law to support her arguments in written pleadings, did not review files in a timely manner, was unaware of the evidence that had been turned over to her office by law enforcement, and that Ms. Taylor failed to disclose evidence to the defense in a timely matter. Ms. Taylor denied the allegations in a formal response to the complaint in July of 2022.

The ODC conducted an investigation and found that Ms. Taylor filed flawed indictments in multiple cases and was not prepared for a grand jury in multiple cases. The Counsel cited other forms of prosecutorial misconduct, including not making reasonable efforts to expedite litigation, inducing testimony in grand jury proceedings that “mischaracterized” evidence, and prosecuting a charge not supported by probable cause.

5. The Statement of Charges says that Ms. Taylor failed to contact potential law enforcement witnesses in a murder case from December of 2021. Court records say that she also tried to enter evidence without marking exhibits and improperly laid foundation for the authenticity of evidence.

Judge Nowicki-Eldridge held a Chambers Conference on Jan. 12, 2023, to address concerns about late filings of Rule 16 disclosures, amended witness lists filed twice, and post-scheduling order deadlines. She said on the record “[Given] everything that has occurred thus far in the courtroom, I can’t help but come to the conclusion in my mind that the State is either woefully unprepared or is not competent to try this matter.”

Court records say that Ms. Taylor was admonished by the Court for filing late witness lists, and the defendant’s sister filed a complaint with the ODC saying that Ms. Taylor was “very unprepared” and never asked the family anything regarding the case.

The Statement of Charges says that Ms. Taylor failed to respond to the ODC’s request for information regarding this complaint in a timely matter.

Ms. Taylor now has 30 days from the filing of these charges (March 9, 2023) to file a verified written response. Failure to do so will be deemed an admission to the allegations outlined in the Statement of Charges.