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Depositions show Clarksburg officials met in secret

CLARKSBURG, W.Va. — While deciding the fate of fellow Clarksburg council member Samuel “Zeke” Lopez, two meetings were held at Mayor Cathy Goings’ house without any public notification, according to sworn testimony by four members of council and the city’s attorney.

No more than three council members, including Goings, were supposed to be present at the meetings at one time, according to testimony in the civil lawsuit Lopez has filed against the six members of council who voted to oust him.

Council members came and went from Goings’ home during these meetings to keep the number below four, which is what is required for a quorum, according to testimony.

Vice Mayor Gary Bowden and council members Robert Caplan, Jim Malfregeot, Margaret Bailey, as well as City Attorney Greg Morgan, testified about the meetings during questioning by Lopez’s lawyer, Greg Schillace, in depositions held at Schillace’s office. Court reporters from Bramble Reporting out of Stonewood were present on various dates to make the official record, according to court filings.

On Feb. 13, 2014, council voted 6-0 to oust Lopez, determining during a special meeting of council at city hall that Lopez’s conviction of misdemeanor domestic assault of his wife was a crime of moral turpitude, requiring that his office be vacated immediately.

Harrison Chief Judge James A. Matish since has granted an injunction, allowing Lopez to remain a nonvoting member of council while his lawsuit seeking reinstatement is pending.

Council’s vote on Feb. 13 came after a 3-3 deadlock on Feb. 6 by council during another meeting at city hall. The 3-3 tie was over whether to have Morgan file paperwork requesting a legal determination as to whether domestic assault is a crime of moral turpitude.

During Caplan’s deposition Oct. 2, Schillace asked Caplan “how the meeting on Feb. 13, 2014, came about.”

“Well, I imagine it would be starting with, there were a couple meetings over at the mayor’s house,” Caplan replied. He didn’t recall when, but said he thought they were held on Sunday evenings.

Caplan then confirmed they met the Sunday prior to Feb. 13 at Goings’ home.

At the meeting prior to Feb. 6, Caplan recalled Goings, Trecost and himself being at the mayor’s home at the same time.

Some members would leave when others came, he added.

“So what you’re telling me is, in order to avoid the requirements of the Open Meetings Act, you staggered meetings?” Schillace asked.

“Correct,” Caplan replied.

“You think that’s fair?” Schillace asked.

“It’s the only way we could do it, to our knowledge, to at least talk about events…

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