CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- After Mayor Danny Jones made a fervent speech supporting the bill, Charleston City Council members voted 20-5 to pass a controversial ordinance that eliminates jail time for first-time offenders of some prostitution-related offenses.
However, the controversial section of the ordinance -- a clause that makes the bill retroactive to apply to all pending cases -- didn't sit well with some council members, resulting in the five "no" votes.
Republicans Courtney Persinger (South Hills) and Chris Dodrill (at-large); Democrats Jerry Ware (at-large) and Robert Sheets (downtown); and East End Independent Cubert Smith were the "no" votes. West Side Democrat Rev. James Ealy and Mountain Party at-large Kasey Russell were absent.
All other council members voted in favor.
Jones repeated statements he made in recent weeks about the bill, including that the ordinance would save the city money by avoiding a potentially costly jury trial and that because the city's municipal court is not a court of record, the offenses wouldn't be listed in national crime databases. He said previously that no one has been sentenced to jail for a first-time prostitution offense in 40 years.
In addition, Jones said he had been thinking about revising city ordinances to eliminate jail time for some offenses for some time. However, the recent high-profile arrest of lobbyist Phil Reale during a July prostitution sting indeed served as the impetus for changing the law.
"Did this serve as a catalyst?" he said to council of the case. "You bet it did."
Jones said currently, 28 people have first-time prostitution charges pending in municipal court.
After the July prostitution sting, Reale's name was left off a press release that listed names of those arrested during the sting. The charges were dropped with prejudice in August, meaning they could be re-filed again.
In October, the Daily Mail published a story about the incident, and Jones said in a press conference the day the story ran that he didn't think anyone should go to jail for some prostitution-related offenses but also that he wanted charges against Reale to be re-filed.
Jones said Monday night the city hasn't yet re-filed those charges. He said Reale distributed two different letters -- one to City Attorney Paul Ellis and one to his clients, the latter of which says he is not guilty.
In light of that, Jones said if Reale can "rectify" those two letters, he will ask Ellis to drop the case. If Reale doesn't admit to his clients he's guilty, Jones wants the charges filed again.
Jones has previously said the city has convincing evidence Reale is guilty.
Regardless, the five council members who voted against the ordinance said they couldn't vote for the bill with the retroactive clause.
"If (Reale's case) had not been brought to light, we would not be doing this right now," Ware said.
Persinger, who voted "no" when the bill was in the Ordinance & Rules Committee, said he would favor the bill without the retroactive clause, and said he would support an amendment doing so. However, he did not have an amendment in writing, which Jones said was necessary to change the ordinance.