KANAWHA COUNTY, WV (WOWK) – The Kanawha County Prosecutor’s Office is sharing their side of the story after Judge Maryclaire Akers claimed on Tuesday they were failing their responsibility to prepare case orders.
Akers says there are unsigned case orders relating to child abuse and neglect cases dating as far back as 2007.
Debra Rusnak, the senior assistant prosecuting attorney in Kanawha County, claims that it is not the office’s responsibility to handle and prepare court orders. She says they do so when they are ordered to by the court, but that it is the court’s responsibility to do it otherwise.
She adds that her office was shocked to be called into court to appear in front of Judge Akers, for an issue she says they have shared interests.
“We all have a shared goal, and that goal is to do what is in the best interest of these children that are involved in these horrific proceedings,” Rusnak said. “And ultimately, it’s not about who’s right and who’s wrong, but working together as a unified front.”
Even so, Rusnak says that her office is not adequately staffed to handle every case order pertaining to child abuse and neglect. Rusnak says this is the case because of the deploring nature of many of those cases, and that it is physically and emotionally taxing work. She says this leads to lower retention rates within the department, and makes hiring more difficult.
“The attorneys in my office try so hard to make sure we are doing what is best for these children because that’s our future,” Rusnak said. “If we aren’t going to protect them, who will? I know the people in my office have that passion and higher calling.”
Rusnak added that the county will be appointing a new circuit court judge to start January 2025.
Shanna Gray with the West Virginia Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children (CASA) says the longer child abuse cases sit in court, the longer kids that are implicated in cases may have to wait to find their permanent homes.
“It’s delaying the permanency. We’re seeing is delaying that healing process for the children to be able to move forward with their lives,” Gray said. “It still keeps them in the system, they’re still having all the effects of foster care when that permanency has not been finalized.”