Recently the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals censured and fined West Virginia Family Court Judge Louise Goldston for searching the home of my client. That put an end to the judicial disciplinary proceedings over that issue. However, the federal civil rights lawsuit remains pending. Prior to the state supreme court opinion being released, Judge Goldston had filed a motion to dismiss in that case, asserting absolute judicial immunity, and we had filed our response brief, arguing essentially that judicial immunity did not apply because searching my client’s residence was not a “judicial act.”
On December 3, 2021, the federal court, sua sponte (on its own without request by a party), entered an order directing both my client and the defendant judge to file a supplemental brief opining whether the state supreme court opinion had an effect on the outcome of the federal court’s ruling, which has yet to come, those supplemental briefs being due this past Friday. Here’s the order:
Both parties filed responses on Friday afternoon, which will be posted below, in their entirety. What I think the Court was hopefully getting at, which we argued in our supplemental brief, is that the West Virginia Supreme Court opinion very well may be entirely dispositive of the main issues in the pending federal case. Why? Because Judge Goldston was the defendant in that underlying state case and had a full and fair opportunity at litigating all issues in that case. A federal court cannot thereafter rule differently. This would violate the Constitution, as we pointed out in our supplemental brief.
The West Virginia Supreme Court held conclusively that Judge Goldston was not performing a judicial act when she searched my client’s home on March 4, 2020, but rather was acting in a law enforcement executive capacity. The issue of whether the conduct complained of was a “judicial” act in nature is one of the requisites to get past absolute judicial immunity. Therefore, a federal court cannot subsequently issue a different ruling on the same issue against the same defendant. Moreover, the state supreme court also concluded under an even higher burden than a civil lawsuit requires (clear and convincing evidence) that Judge Goldston violated both the federal and state constitutions when she invaded the sanctity of my client’s home on that day. This arguably disposes of much of the civil case, by itself, assuming judicial immunity does not apply.
These are interesting and unusual issues. Thus, please feel free to read the supplemental brief I prepared. You can compare and contrast her response and reach your own conclusion. I’ll definitely provide an update once we receive the federal court’s ruling on this.
Just a few minutes ago, the West Virginia Supreme Court issued their opinion in the Family Court Judge search case, censuring Judge Louise Goldston for performing an illegal search at the home of a litigant – my client, Matt Gibson. Though the Court elected not to raise the recommended fine of $1,000, the Court declined to opt for the less-serious written “reprimand.” Thankfully, the Court dismissed the Family Court Judicial Association’s arguments that Family Court judge have the power to engage in home searches disguised as “home views”:
We begin with a threshold question: Did Judge Goldston view the ex-husband’s home, or did she search it? We find that she searched it. A “view” is “the act or proceeding by which a tribunal goes to observe an object that cannot be produced in court because it is immovable or inconvenient to remove….”
We agree that the ex-husband’s home was “immovable” and certainly “inconvenient” to produce in court. View, BLACK’S LAW DICTIONARY (11th ed. 2019). However, Judge Goldston did not go to the property to observe the ex-husband’s house; she went there to locate and seize certain of its contents—pictures, DVDs, and other items of personal property. These items of personal property were not “immovable or inconvenient to remove” from the home. Ibid. In fact, the ex-wife removed many of these items during the so-called “view.” Accordingly, we find that Judge Goldston’s actions at the residence were not a view.
On the contrary, the record is clear that Judge Goldston went to the property to locate things, not simply to observe them. Her own words support this conclusion. When the ex-husband demanded a list of what she was seeking, she appeared to reply, “[y]ou have a list of everything [unintelligible] attached to the order.” When the ex- husband professed not to “know where some of it’s at[,]” she replied, “Well, we’re gonna find it.”
Looking for things is a “search” by any sensible definition of the term. As the United States Supreme Court stated in Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 16 (1968), “it is nothing less than sheer torture of the English language to suggest that a careful exploration of the outer surfaces of a person’s clothing all over his or her body in an attempt to find weapons is not a ‘search’”.
Searches are an activity of the executive department. State ex rel. Parma Cmty. Gen. Hosp. v. O’Donnell, 2013-Ohio-2923, ¶ 7 (stating that “searches are executive in nature.”). “Indeed, searches are so quintessentially executive in nature that even a judge who participates in one acts ‘not * * * as a judicial officer, but as an adjunct law enforcement officer.’” State ex rel. Hensley v. Nowak, 52 Ohio St. 3d 98, 99, 556 N.E.2d 171, 173 (1990)….
In light of these clear prohibitions, we hold that the West Virginia Constitution forbids a judicial officer to participate in a search because a search is an exercise of executive power. W. Va. Const. art. 5, § 1. Because Judge Goldston plainly engaged in such a search, we find that the so- called “view” was improper.
We recently obtained a report from the West Virginia Office of Disciplinary Counsel which found that a West Virginia Family Court Judge made improper and false allegations about the judicial disciplinary prosecutors who have been prosecuting a fellow Family Court Judge, Louise Goldston. The report concluded, in part:
It is shocking that a long-standing member of the judiciary bestowed with the honor of being part of the system designed to protect and preserve the integrity of the judicial system would make such baseless accusations designed to solely to impugn the integrity of two members of the West Virginia State Bar. It does not appear that FCJ (Family Court Judge) Stotler conducted any factual investigation into the allegations regarding JDC (Judicial Disciplinary Counsel) before regurgitating the untimely, unsupported allegations made by FCJ (Family Court Judge) Goldston and sending an ex parte communication, written on his official court letterhead, to the Supreme Court. Additionally, the Judicial Branch of government has the exclusive authority to regulate the practice of law in the State of West Virginia, but FCJ Stotler’s letter was also sent to members of the Legislature….
The law is not an arena where we vilify civility, curse through preparation, and denigrate skilled, zealous advocacy.
The ODC investigation commenced after a sitting Family Court Judge, Judge Glen R. Stotler, of the 23rd Family Court Circuit (Hampshire, Mineral and Morgan Counties), also a member of the Judicial Hearing Board that heard the Goldston case, sent a March 25, 2021 letter (on his official court letterhead) to the Chief Justice of the WV Supreme Court, making numerous allegations against the judicial prosecutors in regards to their handling of the Goldston case, and ultimately requesting an investigation into their actions, as well as their termination, “or at the least a serious reprimand.” Here’s a partial shot of the three-page letter:
Not only did he send the letter to the Supreme Court, but he sent it to the Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman, the House Judiciary Committee Chairman, the Court’s administrative office, as well as to the President of the Family Court Judicial Association, Deanna R. Rock, another sitting Family Court Judge.
Here’s the ODC investigation report in its entirety, which details the entire ordeal up to that point, including a discussion of some of the sworn statements taken of the judges involved. It also gives a rare behind-the-scenes look at the judicial disciplinary prosecution procedures, which are usually confidential:
Shockingly, on the same day as this ODC report was issued – May 13, 2021 – the Family Court Judicial Association apparently helped Judge Stotler double-down, by essentially turning his letter into a “Resolution” adopted by the entire Family Court Judicial Association, again making allegations against the JDC and calling for their termination. It’s my understanding that this “Resolution” was effectively sent back by the Supreme Court Clerk’s office as inappropriate. They later retained a lawyer and filed an amicus brief in the Goldston case, which is set for oral arguments next month. Here’s the Resolution:
Perhaps they should have waited maybe one more day to issue their Resolution, since unbeknownst to them, apparently, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel on that same day issued this lengthy report revealing Judge Stotler’s allegations as false, outrageous and highly inappropriate. The ODC report documented that the judicial disciplinary prosecutors were falsely accused, and that perhaps the accuser(s) might want to examine their own misconduct:
The former chair of the JIC (Judicial Investigation Commission) stated he could speak to the abilities and character of Respondent Tarr and Respondent Lanham. He stated as attorneys representing the JIC they have exceedingly difficult jobs as they must not only know the judicial canons but act fearlessly in doing those things as required by their jobs as JDC. The former Chair of the JIC stated that FCJ Stotler’s March 2021 letter demonstrates both an ignorance of the system and a willingness to respond to adverse decisions in an irresponsible manner. The former Chair further opined that the reckless letter required FCJ Stotler’s removal from further service on the Judicial Hearing Board.
Now, an entire body of Family Court Judges have made the same false allegations and requests. Numerous sitting Family Court Judges out there have apparently now engaged in what is described in the report as acting in an ignorant and irresponsible manner, and which raises a serious question as to their fitness to serve in a judicial capacity. But who are they, specifically? They’re hiding behind their supposedly private “Association.” The ODC report, if you read through it, mentions the involvement of then-President of the Family Court Judicial Association, Deanna R. Rock. In fact, it mentions that she apparently assisted Judge Stotler in preparing the letter with the false allegations.
Judge Rock, along with another Family Court Judge, also apparently assisted Judge Goldston with her brief, which included the false statements about the judicial prosecutors:
Did it ever seem like a good idea to get involved in a disciplinary prosecution of a fellow judge and attempt to have the prosecutors fired? What are the potential remedies? Judicial disciplinary complaints? Impeachment proceedings? If Judge Stotler isn’t fit to preside over a judicial disciplinary hearing, then is he, or others who joined him, fit to preside over cases involving people’s children and finances? These questions need to be asked, and there may be some news on that front in the near future.
We have several pending FOIA requests pertaining to this, and hopefully will have more information soon. Meanwhile, the federal civil rights lawsuit against Judge Goldston, and others, remains pending. Read more about the background of this case here:
The saga of the Family Court Judges attempting to sway justice in the case of the Family Court Judge Search Case continues. As I already posted about, I sent a FOIA request to the Family Court Judicial Association to ascertain, among other things, who actually voted to engage in this conduct. Their lawyer responded, as I expected, denying that they are accountable to the public via FOIA:
So this is like saying that any group of government officials can just form their own “voluntary association” and then conduct business pertaining to their official jobs, and even use their government employees, emails, and so on, and yet avoid FOIA accountability. We’ll have to see about that.
Here are some of the recent filings flying back and forth in their efforts at intervening in the pending disciplinary matter involving Judge Goldston:
Today I served a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request on the attorney who is representing West Virginia’s “Family Judicial Association” in their attempt at preventing judicial discipline against the WV Family Court judge who was caught on video searching my client’s home.
Why did I do this? A few days ago, the association filed notice that they want to file an amicus brief in the pending disciplinary matter against Judge Louise Goldston, which is what I had previously done on behalf of her victim, Matthew Gibson. Here is the filing they submitted:
The Brief notes the irony that the Association’s actions here are likely violations of the rules in the Code of Judicial Conduct:
First and most importantly, any comment by the WV Family Court Association on the Goldston case pending before the Court would be a violation of Rule 2.10 of the Code of Judicial Conduct for the judges who voted in favor of filing the amicus whether it be members of the executive committee or the members as a whole.
The “Family Judicial Association” apparently consists of the 47 elected Family Court judges from around the State of West Virginia. In our FOIA, we are requesting disclosure of the identity of every member who voted to attempt to interfere with a pending case by demanding the firing of the prosecutors, and also who voted to attempt to interfere with a pending case by attempting to insert themselves into pending disciplinary litigation, in which they’re not involved (other than wanting to preserve what they view as their power to search people’s homes, apparently).
This is absolutely outrageous. Apparently, there’s a secret society style organization of Family Court judges in West Virginia, who held a meeting and signed a resolution asking the West Virginia Supreme Court to fire the judicial disciplinary counsel prosecutors, who are currently engaged in the disciplinary prosecution of Judge Goldston in what has been termed the “Family Court Judge Search Case.” This was then leaked to the media by the judges, none of whom would agree to go on the record, but rather opted to work from the shadows.
Is there a constitutional right to be a parent? Join my live discussion with Tennessee Divorce Attorney Andy Fox about some of the child custody shenanigans that go on, as well as the constitutional rights to be a parent, and other things. #ChildCustody #FamilyCourt #DivorceAttorney Join us live at 6:30 pm ET on Freedom is Scary – Episode No. 60.
On Friday we filed a lawsuit against Putnam County and the individual members of their “SEU” – Special Enforcement Unit – for an illegal search of a family’s residence in Putnam County, West Virginia in April of 2019. These were the same guys from the Dustin Elswick video. Here’s the full complaint (sorry it was omitted earlier, but NOW here it is):
Then this morning we received motions to dismiss from the defendants in the Family Court Judge Search case. Here’s the memorandum arguing for dismissal for the judge, based on judicial immunity, and somewhat surprisingly, the 11th Amendment:
Today the Judicial Hearing Board of West Virginia made their Recommended Decision to the West Virginia Supreme Court in the case of the Family Court judge who searched the home of a litigant – my client, Matt Gibson. Despite the fact that disciplinary officials and the judge had already agreed to a punishment of a $5,000 fine and an “admonishment,” the Hearing Board only recommended “censure rather than admonishment” and “a fine of $1,000 instead of $5,000….”
At least one vote in this decision was The Honorable Glen Stotler, a sitting West Virginia Family Court Judge who “dissents because in his opinion there was no clear and convincing evidence that [his fellow Family Court Judge] violated any provision of the Code of Judicial Conduct. Mind you, the undisputed allegations included the admission that Judge Goldston violated “Rules 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 2.2, 2.4(A), 2.4(B), and 2.5 of the Code of Judicial Conduct” for, among other things, threatening to put the homeowner in jail if he refused to allow her (along with his ex-wife, her lawyer, boyfriend, and two cops) inside his home to search.
As far as the rest of the board who voted for the reduced punishment, they noted in their decision that, “although there was no clear legal foundation for conducting the judicial view in question, the scope of a judicial officer’s inherent authority relative to judicial views is uncertain, and guidance to judicial officers from the Supreme Court of Appeals through rulemaking or otherwise regarding the proper scope of conducting judicial views would be beneficial.”
No clear legal foundation? A judge can show up at your home with law enforcement and search your house, and there’s no legal basis establishing that she can’t? They’re asking for guidance on “rulemaking” from the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia on this grey area? “It is a basic principle of Fourth Amendment law that searches and seizures inside a home without a warrant are presumptively unreasonable.” Brigham City v. Stuart, 547 U.S. 398, 403 (2006). This applies to both criminal and other administrative type searches and seizures. SeeMarshall v. Barlow’s, Inc., 436 U.S. 307, 312-313, (1978) This is pretty damned clear. No state supreme court – not even a legislature – can create a new rule or law allowing a federal Fourth Amendment violation. Period.
“You’re not getting in my house without a warrant.”
“Oh yes I am…..”
Here’s the decision. It still goes to the Supreme Court, and they will make the actual decision. I’m told that the judicial disciplinary officials will be filing objections to the decision, and also objecting to the participation of Judge Stotler due to his impartiality.
By now everyone knows about the case of the Family Court Judge searching my client’s house. Despite being formally charged before the WV Supreme Court, and despite agreeing to the recommended discipline, she is now trying to back out of it, with the assistance of another Family Court Judge, who happens to be on the Judicial Hearing Board. It’s apparently headed to the WV Supreme Court on the issue of whether it’s legal for a family court judge to search a litigant’s home. The briefs are in. Here’s what’s going on. It’s crazy.
Here’s the Post Hearing Order from the Judicial Hearing Board, following what was supposed to be a routine hearing to receive and recommend the joint settlement agreement between the parties, which provided for a $5,000.00 fine and a censure. It posed a number of questions to the parties, requesting briefing on the posed questions, which from my understanding is pretty un-heard-of:
Since my client is a “complainant,” rather than a party, we filed an amicus curiae brief, which is just sort of advisory guidance to the Judicial Hearing Board. Note that once they make their decision, their recommendation goes to the WV Supreme Court for a final decision.