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.
The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals has charged a Raleigh County Family Court judge of 26 years with at least seven alleged violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct, after she admitted to visiting the home of litigants to investigate a property dispute.
The SCOA formally charged Judge Louise E. Goldston on Sept. 23 with violations to rules on compliance with the law, confidence in the judiciary, avoiding abuse of prestige of office, impartiality and fairness, external influences, competence, diligence and cooperating and extrajudicial activities, in general.
Goldston hears cases in Raleigh Family Court and Wyoming County Family Court.
Another interesting update….. Apparently there was a public admonishment against another Family Court Judge, who was recently elected to the bench, for doing a “home visit” in two instances, though both of those included lawyers who either requested the visit, or failed to object. The judge in that case mentioned that he never would have performed them had someone objected, and blamed Judge Goldston (from the video):
Respondent opined that he believed it was proper to visit litigants’ homes because a colleague had engaged in the same practice for several years. (The colleague, who is also the subject of a judicial disciplinary proceeding, recently engaged in a visit to a litigant ex-husband’s home to search for….
Discussion with my client, Matt Gibson, on having his house searched by a judge:
I did three TV interviews on Monday. I’ve only seen one, this one, which I thought turned out well – brutally honest:
BECKLEY, WV (WVNS) — Impartiality and fairness, complying with the law, avoiding abuse of office. These are only three of the seven rules Judge Louise Goldston is charged with violating during an incident in March.
Goldston oversaw a divorce case involving Matt Gibson. In order to find items Gibson allegedly neglected to maintain or turn over to the court, his attorney, John Bryan, said Goldston reportedly stopped the hearing and ordered all parties to immediately go to Gibson’s house.
“From day one that I looked at that video, I didn’t see any way that that was legal,” Bryan explained.
Even though Gibson is representing himself in the divorce case, he did hire John Bryan for action taken against the judge after the at-home search.
“Apparently this has been going on for 20 years and at least 10 other times this was done upon the motion of an attorney without the object of the other attorney,” Bryan said. “And what does that tell me? That maybe they were scared to challenge the judge, to challenge the system. I don’t know. I think that there are a lot of questions there that need to be answered.”
Read the formal statement of charges and my analysis:
Yesterday afternoon, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals clerk’s office released the Formal Statement of Charges against Raleigh County, West Virginia Family Court Judge Louise E. Goldston – a 26 year Family Court judge. This is the judge caught on video searching the home of my client, Matt Gibson – threatening him with arrest if he didn’t allow her in. Here’s the post with the original video, as well as the update video, if you haven’t seen it. The charges state that on March 11, 2020, investigators opened a complaint, and that a subsequently second complaint was filed by my client, Matt Gibson.
For reference, I originally uploaded the video of the judge searching Matt’s property on March 10 – the day before the inception of the opening of the investigation. The video quickly went viral, and by the next day an investigation had essentially opened itself. In other words, the power of Youtube is great. In one day, it found its way into the eyeballs of the Judicial Investigation Commission, the only folks with the power to lodge judicial disciplinary charges against judges in West Virginia.
The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia established the Judicial Investigation Commission to determine whether probable cause exists to formally charge a judge with a violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct, to govern the ethical conduct of judges and to determine if a judge, because of advancing years and attendant physical and mental incapacity, should not continue to serve.
If you want to report what you believe is judicial misconduct, or a civil rights violations committed by a judge, anyone can file a complaint with the JIC. Here’s the complaint form.
Any person may file an ethics complaint against a judge. However, a complaint that is filed more than two (2) years after the complainant knew, or in the exercise of reasonable diligence should have known, of the existence of a violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct may be dismissed for exceeding the statute of limitations.
Then, even though covid hit, the investigation apparently proceeded, and 6 months later the charges dropped (which was yesterday, 10/2/20). I just happened to be traveling when the charges came out, so it wasn’t really until this morning that I was able to digest them.The Formal Statement of Charges alleges that:
FAMILY COURT JUDGE GOLDSTON violated Rule 1.1 (compliance with the law), Rule 1.2 (confidence in the judiciary), Rule 1.3 (avoiding abuse of prestige of office), Rule 2.2 (impartiality and fairness), Rule 2.4(B) (external influences), Rule 2.5 (competence, diligence and cooperation) and Rule 3.1(A), (B), (D) (extrajudicial activities in general) of the Code of Judicial Conduct….
In other words, the JIC concluded that the judge failed to comply with the law, committed actions which undermines confidence in the judiciary,abused the prestige of her office, was impartial and unfair, allowed external influences on her actions, was incompetent, un-diligent (is that a word?) and uncooperative, and engaged in extrajudicial activities. According to the charges, these home “visits” (searches) have been going on “over the past twenty years.”
Over the past twenty years as a Family Court Judge, Respondent has been engaging in the practice of visiting homes of litigants appearing in front of her. Respondent went to the litigants’ homes to either determine if certain disputed marital property was present and/or to supervise the transfer of disputed property. Respondent admitted to conducting these home visits in her capacity as a Family Court Judge on eleven separate occasions in different cases.
In every instance except Mr. Gibson’s case, all of Respondent’s home visits were prompted by a motion by a litigant’s attorney and not objected to by the opposing party and will full knowledge of the purpose therein. Most of the Respondent’s home visits occurred during a court hearing in the case. A party’s attorney would move the Court to leave directly from the bench and accompany the parties to the home. After granting the motion, Respondent would meet the parties at the home.
The JIC interviewed the judge and asked her what authority she had to engage in this practice:
On July 22, 2020, Judicial Disciplinary Counsel took Respondent’s sworn statement. Respondent admitted that she failed to inform Mr. Gibson of the purpose of the home visit while the parties were in the courtroom and that she did not give him any opportunity to object thereto until everyone was at his house.
Respondent opined that she believed it was proper to visit litigants’ homes. Respondent likened the practice to a jury view or similar continuation of the court proceeding and stated that as a finder of fact it was necessary to determine whether a party could be held in contempt for not turning over personal property as previously ordered by the Court.
When asked, Respondent could provide no statute, rule or case that gave her the authority to conduct home visits. Respondent also acknowledged that there was nothing in the contempt powers that gave her the authority to conduct a home visit. Respondent confessed that she never held anyone in contempt prior to going to the home and that she failed to enter any order subsequent to the visit reflecting what had happened at the residence, whether any items had been secured and/or whether or not a party was in contempt.
I was absolutely correct when I first reviewed the video. There was no legal basis upon which a judge could search a home as was portrayed in the video. The fact that this judge had been doing it for the past 20 years, was not itself justification. Instead, this sobering fact proves that many former Family Court litigants are absolutely correct when they rant about corruption and unlawfulness. Over the past 20 years, at least 10 other victims have been subjected to this in this judge’s “courtroom,” subjected to unlawful “home visits” upon the motion of an attorney, and without objection from any other attorney.
I wonder how many of these visits involved this one particular attorney involved in this video? After all, it was this attorney who left a voice message for Mr. Gibson the night before the search, offering $5,000 in exchange for foregoing what would essentially be a Family Court anal probing:
This whole thing reeks to me, and sounds a lot like a “pay to play” style judicial experience. Had he paid 5 grand, he could have avoided being lucky number 11? Time will tell, hopefully. Roots run deep in a 20 year period inside one particular court. Perhaps this had something to do with a local Family Court attorney going on TV following my initial TV appearance with my client, to say that I was wrong, and that “home visits” were a perfectly legal Family Court practice. Yeah, okay…..
BECKLEY, WV (WOAY) – UPDATE: On Thursday, we ran a story about a Raleigh County man involved in a contempt case after a finalized divorce whose recording of a family court judge went viral. Matt Gibson claimed the search of his home was against his 4th Amendment rights. Because the judge and the opposing attorney cannot comment on ongoing litigation, local family attorney [let’s call him JOHN DOE] is speaking out saying Judge Louise Goldston was doing her job and doing it legally.
“What I think is most important to know about this is when you see a video on YouTube, when you see a Terry search, when you see something and immediately it doesn’t match what we’ve always seen on television that doesn’t make it wrong,” he said. “Because they didn’t do it that way on Law and Order doesn’t mean that a judge that has decades of experience is breaking the law.”
It looks like I was right, and he was wrong. So, he said the judge wasn’t allowed to respond, so he was responding on her behalf? Why is that, I wonder? That’s a rhetorical question, of course. Is he saying that she asked him to respond and defend her publicly? Another good point that the JIC makes in the statement of charges, is that if the judge, and her local family court lawyers, are going to characterize her actions as a lawful component of a judicial proceeding, then they have some issues to consider:
Respondent admitted that she never had any clear or written procedures for conducting a home visit, including but not limited to, when the proceeding should be utilized and how the process should take place. She also acknowledged that she never took a court reporter to the scene.
Upon reflection, Respondent agreed that the practice could make her a potential witness to a future proceeding which could then result in her disqualification. Respondent further agreed that family court judges run the risk of disqualification if he/she were to become a witness in a subsequent proceeding pertaining thereto.
Respondent also agreed that the burden of proof in a contempt proceeding rests not with the Family Court Judge but with the moving party. She agreed that it is the moving party’s responsibility to provide evidence in support of his/her contention that the other side has failed to produce the items in question. Respondent admitted to improperly putting herself into the role of litigant.
Like I said during the TV interview, the reason I’ve never heard people complain about having their homes searched by judges before, is because that’s not what judge do – judges don’t search homes. This judge was acting in the role of a litigant. So it was basically like Trump debating both Biden and Chris Wallace in the first presidential debate. That’s not how it’s supposed to work. The opposing attorney is supposed to submit evidence and prove his case. Here you had a judge doing both of these things, and then engaging in an unlawful search of one party’s home, on behalf of the other party. Why? That’s yet another rhetorical question of course. If the other 10 victims were represented by lawyers, why didn’t they object?
And then there’s the 800 pound gorilla in the room: the Sheriff’s Department assisting the judge in these actions. On how many of these 10 other searches were they present? The statement of charges also notes that the bailiff (a sheriff’s deputy) forced Mr. Gibson to stop his recording, and that he himself started to record what happened inside the home:
Upon Respondent’s arrival at Mr. Gibson’s property, Mr. Gibson had a bystander video record the initial interactions outside the house between Respondent and the parties. Mr. Gibson also secretly recorded several minutes of audio of the initial interaction on his cell phone.
When the video and audio recording were discovered by Respondent, she ordered both recordings stopped. However, once inside the house, Respondent’s bailiff used his phone to record both video and audio of the separation of marital assets.
Where is this video, and why hasn’t it been produced? I heard through the grapevine, that following my initial uploading of the Youtube video, that the Sheriff of that county sent around a memo to the effect of, “no more going anywhere with a judge….” Of course, the JIC doesn’t investigate law enforcement, nor discipline them. You might find this shocking, but there is no state agency or commission which investigates law enforcement officers in the way that judges, and even lawyers, are investigated (there’s a pending disciplinary complaint against the lawyer who was involved here as well).
The only consistent investigator of law enforcement misconduct in West Virginia is me, sadly. Those who were involved in the search of my client’s house will be explaining their actions. I can’t put people in jail, nor discipline them, so we’ve pretty much come full circle. I have to demand money damages for my client, and they’ll have the opportunity to avoid what’s coming their way. It ain’t pretty, but that’s the relief available. Unless someone wants to deputize me as a special federal prosecutor or something…..