Update on the Family Court Judge Search Case: It was over two years ago – March 10, 2020 – when I uploaded a video on what was then my fairly new Youtube channel, showing the footage depicting a West Virginia Family Court Judge searching my client’s home. The judge ended up being charged with judicial disciplinary violations, which went all the way to the State Supreme Court, ending in a written censure to the judge, describing the search as serious misconduct, which was not a judicial activity authorized under state law. A federal Section 1983 civil rights lawsuit was filed, which I’ve documented extensively, and which I’ve spent hours upon hours litigating.
Today we had a pretrial conference in federal court and I want to give a quick update on where we stand. It looks like great news to me. It sounds like the Court has given the greenlight to a jury trial beginning on the 19th of this month. The Court has yet to rule on the pending issues surrounding the defendant judge’s assertion of judicial immunity. However, it noted that a ruling would be imminent – likely early next week. This forthcoming opinion will be extremely important in defining the parameters of judicial immunity, as these cases are extremely rare and difficult.
Be on the lookout. There will surely be an update on Tuesday or Wednesday of next week with the details of the Court’s ruling. I believe it’s going to come down to the fact that the State Supreme Court has already spoken on the judge’s conduct in this particular situation. The law of judicial immunity requires the Court to look at the nature of the activity, rather than the job title of the defendant. The State Supreme Court has already issued a final adjudication of the fact that judges in West Virginia do not engage in searches; that searches are an executive law enforcement function, and that the defendant doing so in this particular case is “serious misconduct” and an “egregious” misuse of power.
Lastly, the law enforcement defendants are still in the case, both as individual defendants, as well as in the Monell Claim alleging a 20 year practice and policy of Family Court judicial searches, which according to the deposition testimony of the defendant officers, continues to this day.
You may remember the West Virginia Circuit Court Judge who was pulled over in a traffic stop by the Moorefield Police Department, resulting in the dash cam footage going viral on various Youtube channels, including my own, which is where it was first released to the public. Judge Carter Williams ended up being formally charged with judicial disciplinary charges. While those charges were pending, Judge Williams got in trouble again due to allegations he left Walmart with merchandise, but without paying. More judicial disciplinary charges were tacked on…. Well, his judicial disciplinary bench trial just ended, following three days of testimony before West Virginia’s Judicial Hearing Board, which is sort of an ethics court comprised of judges and a few appointed citizens.
The bench trial was open to the public and was held in Berkeley County, West Virginia, which is up in the northern panhandle, up near D.C. However, I was unable to view the proceedings because I was actually subpoenaed as a witness, since some of the relevant testimony pertained to the public’s reaction to the judicial misconduct, which is represented in the 2,500 plus comments to the footage on Youtube, first released by me. If you recall, I first obtained the footage via a FOIA request and publicly released it. I ended up not being called though, for whatever reason. The trial ended today, as reported by WV Metronews. The same reporter did watch the proceedings, and in three separate news reports provided some witness testimony quotes. Here’s what we know.
Another Circuit Court Judge in the same judicial circuit testified:
Judge Charles Carl, serving as a witness instead of in his usual role, testified that he was surprised by what he saw in a video of his colleague, Judge Carter Williams, at a traffic stop. “Well, first off, I would say it was out of character for how I know him,” Carl said during a hearing of the Judicial Hearing Board in Martinsburg. “Angry. Agitated. That’s not how I perceive him. That’s not how he acts in court. I just thought he had a bad day.”
Moorefield’s former police chief, Steve Reckhart took a call from Judge Williams at home the night of the traffic stop. “He was upset, agitated, and began to tell me about events that had just occurred,” Reckhart testified today. “He was upset with one of the officers, Officer Johnson, because he stopped him for a cell phone violation and went on to elaborate about the cell phone and how it happened to be there. Then he began to tell me about the frustrations with the Moorefield Police Department.” Reckhart also recalled “the fact that he was expressing his displeasure in some of the criminal cases that were being brought to his court and advised that he had some leeway in some of those cases but that he might look at them tighter in the future.”
Moorefield Mayor Carol Zuber testified that Judge Williams went to her home about 10 p.m. the night of the traffic stop. “He was upset,” Zuber recalled. “He said, ‘You know I really hate to do this to you, but you’ll have to do something with the police officers’ and then proceeded to tell me that he was pulled over because they accused him of holding his cell phone, talking on his cell phone.”She continued, “He made the indication that all of my officers, that I needed to straighten them up. He said they were a bunch of young men, that they were kids.”
A retired judge from the same judicial circuit testified:
Former Circuit Judge Donald Cookman, who served on the same circuit where Williams and Carl preside, earlier in his career was chairman of the Judicial Investigation Commission. As the allegations about how Williams had behaved swirled through the community, local officials had turned to Cookman for advice. Cookman testified today that what he saw on the video created an impression. “I was shocked. I was shocked. I’d known Judge Williams for a number of years, actually knew him as an attorney,” Cookman said. “He’s always very respectful, and I was surprised and shocked.” Cookman testified, “I was concerned that it might be a violation of judicial ethics.”
And last, but not least, Judge Williams himself took the stand yesterday in his own defense:
“Yesterday, for the first time, out in the hallway during a break, I got to talk to the young man that I was so rude to,” Williams testified today. “For the first time, I got to say I’m sorry. I shook his hand and I said, ‘I’m sorry for this. I’m sorry for all this upset.’” . . . . Williams today acknowledged flying off the handle but denied trying to leverage the authority and prestige of his office. “From Day 1, I said that my conduct on July 11 last year was unbecoming of a judge. I said it was disrespectful and rude,” he testified. He later added, “I made a federal case out of it. Just silly. Made a federal case out of it. I’ve regretted it since and tried to make right on it since.” . . . .
Williams today described the mindset that led him to use that phrasing and make those accusations. “I was in fired up mode,” he said. “For whatever reason on that day, I was gonna defend myself, advocate for myself like Custer on his hill, die there. That’s what it felt like. And that was the mode I was in.” The judge testified that he never said he would change the rulings in his courtroom based on the views he had expressed. “I never said I was going to change my rulings. Wouldn’t have done that, would never do that,” he said.
The judge testified that the past year of allegations has altered his reputation in the community and hurt his family. “So yes, my conduct is what it is. It’ll have to be up to someone else,” he said, referring to the hearing board. “But regardless of that and far beyond that, I’ve had to withstand this and be called a racist in this culture and a thief. That’s just about as bad as you can be called. And I am none of those. I’ve never been. I’m a lot of things. I’m not those. “My actions opened the door for me to be called publicly what I’m not. So my actions did that, yes.”
Now, the Judicial Hearing Board will issue a written recommendation to be forwarded to the West Virginia Supreme Court, which contains the Board’s determination about whether judicial ethics violations were proven by a standard of clear and convincing evidence, and if so, ultimately advising as to the Board’s recommended disciplinary sanctions, which ranges from admonishment to a fine to suspension to loss of his law license.
The State Supreme Court is free to adopt those recommendations, or to completely ignore them. However, in my experience, I believe it’s highly likely that the Supreme Court will defer to whatever findings of fact were contained in the written recommendation. If there’s a dispute regarding the underlying law, the Supreme Court is more likely to stray from the recommendation. In the case of Judge Williams, I’m not aware of there being much of a dispute of law – just disagreement about the level of culpability and appropriate punishment.
The Raleigh County Sheriff’s Deputy defendants in the Family Court Judge Search case have requested qualified immunity from the federal court in their motion for summary judgment in the pending civil lawsuit. Unfortunately for them, they can’t claim judicial immunity, as the judge has, even where following orders of a judge. So they’re stuck with qualified immunity. But will they get it? Their depositions have been taken, and frankly, their testimony was quite shocking. Despite the fact that the WV Supreme Court declared in no certain terms that judges do not search homes, and that the March 4, 2020 search of Mr. Gibson’s house was unconstitutional and “serious misconduct,” both the defendant judge, as well as her current and former bailiffs, continue to defy the Supreme Court, even threatening to do it again.
Here’s Raleigh County’s motion, in full. The gist of their argument is that, even if they participated in a civil rights violation, they should be dismissed from liability, because it was a reasonable mistake of law, which is the basic argument for qualified immunity. Moreover, the department itself claims they didn’t have a formal policy which caused, or substantially contributed to, the civil rights violation. As you’ll see below, the arguments of their lawyers don’t match the testimony of the actual officers, who clearly admit to an ongoing policy of illegal judicial searches, and who apparently have no respect for the law whatsoever.
Posted below is our response to Raleigh County’s motion, which highlights the extremely troubling deposition testimony of two of the deputy defendants, Bobby Stump and Jeff McPeake, both current or former bailiffs of the defendant judge. Here’s a couple of highlights describing their deposition testimony:
Defendant Bobby Stump, who arrived shortly after the search and seizure began, testified that he served as Defendant Goldston’s bailiff for approximately ten years, and that during that time, he went with her to the homes of litigants “numerous times.” (Stump at 6:12-14, 19-24; 7:1-4). When asked to estimate the number, Stump stated, “There’s no way I could – over thousands of divorce cases . . . . There’s no way I could give you an accurate number. I mean, I have no idea.” (Stump at 7:19-24; 8:1)….
According to Defendant Stump, the arrest powers were utilized often while serving as Defendant Goldston’s bailiff. Stump testified that he’s arrested “dozens and dozens and dozens of people with Ms. Goldston.” (Stump at 13:22-24; 14:1-5)…. Stump testified that he personally looked for items in the home of a litigant “numerous times,” explaining, “[a]ll the judges sent me out to look for items” and that, “[i]n the middle of a court hearing they would send me out to look for items at a home.” Stump estimated this occurred dozens of times. (Stump 16:4-12)…. In fact, Stump described that he and Judge Goldston knew each other so well, that when they went into the homes of litigants, “she didn’t have to tell me anything . . . she could just give a look and I would know what to do.” (Stump 51:4-12)….
Defendant Stump remains employed as a police officer with the Raleigh County Sheriff’s Office. He noted that, even after the March 4, 2020 incident, there has been no policy change within the department about bailiffs going to the homes of litigants. Indeed, Stump asserts that, “if Judge Goldston told me today to go to the house, I’d be the first one there.” (Stump 56:1-6). Even after the WVSCA declared that Judge Goldston engaged in an unlawful search of Plaintiff’s residence on March 4, 2020, Defendant Stump boldly declared, “I’ve never had a judge to ask me to come remotely [close] to breaking the law.” When asked whether he would violate the Constitution, if asked to do so by a judge, Stump responded, “I know without a doubt, no judge that I ever worked for would ever ask me to violate the law, so I’ve never been in that predicament and I can safely say I never will.” (Stump 58:19-23).
Even in the context of a criminal case, Defendant Stump testified that he would perform a warrantless search of a defendant’s home, if asked to do so by a judge, despite his decades of knowledge and experience with the search warrant requirement under the Fourth Amendment. This same blind allegiance, or ignorance, is what guided Stump on March 4, 2020. (Stump 60:2-21). McPeake likewise subjectively believes that a warrant is not required in order to perform a search of a litigant’s home, at the direction of a family court judge, based on the fact that the judge is personally present and directing their conduct. (McPeake 22:18-24; 23:1-4; 24:5-14, 22-24; 25:1-3).
The judge’s current bailiff, Jeff McPeake, likewise testified that he was specifically told that he was allowed to participate in home searches with judges, and that there has been no policy change since then – even after the WV Supreme Court formally censured the judge for the behavior, calling it “serious misconduct,” unconstitutional, and an “egregious abuse of process” which violated the privacy and sanctity of the victim’s home.
McPeake testified that he believed the search was authorized under department policy due to a conversation with a supervisor, Sergeant Lilly, who told him that it was fine to do so, because “we do do that from time to time.” Thereafter, no supervisor ever told McPeake not to do so. Moreover, as of the date of his deposition, he wasn’t aware of any written policy changes pertaining to bailiffs or deputies going to the home of a litigant with a judge. Nor have any of his supervisors proactively told him not to engage in similar conduct in the future, even though they’re aware that he continues to serve as a bailiff for Judge Goldston. Nevertheless, McPeake noted that his own common sense tells him he shouldn’t do it again. (McPeake 13:10-13; 40:11-24; 64:2-23; 65:9-17). It appeared to McPeake, after getting express authorization from a supervisor to participate in his first home search with a family court judge, that it seemed to be something that occurred on a regular basis. (McPeake 13:7-13; 15:3-8).
Thus, the sheriff’s department authorized the home search practice by judges, and apparently continues to authorize the unconstitutional practice, in total disregard of West Virginia law, not to mention the U.S. Constitution. If only the voters of Raleigh County had some way of holding their government officials accountable…..
Today we filed a motion for summary judgment in the federal civil rights lawsuit against Family Court Judge Louise Goldston, arguing that she should be denied judicial immunity, as well as foreclosed from even arguing at trial that her actions didn’t violate the Constitution. In other words, the jury trial in her case should be limited to the issue of damages only. It’s unusual for the plaintiff in a lawsuit to file such a motion, but in this case, not only were her actions caught on video, but also already declared by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals to have been unlawful and unethical.
On March 1, 2022, I finally had the opportunity to take Defendant Goldston’s deposition, which marked the 4th time she has testified under oath about the matter, by my count. The first several times she testified in her judicial disciplinary proceedings, when she was still facing possible suspension by the Supreme Court, she admitted that she made mistakes and acted unlawfully, and that she had violated multiple canons of judicial ethics. During her deposition however, with threat of suspension behind her, she was completely defiant, testifying that she is essentially above the law; that she doesn’t believe she did anything wrong; that the Supreme Court was wrong; that the disciplinary authorities engaged in a conspiracy against her; that she doesn’t regret threatening to arrest Mr. Gibson; and that she might even “do it again.” You really have to read it to believe it, which is why I’ve also attached the transcript of her deposition, below….
Reuters reported a few days ago on a recent set of court orders from a federal judge in West Virginia finding a troubling pattern of illegal search warrants obtained by drug task force officers.
In December, Goodwin issued an order suppressing evidence seized from a house in 2021. The judge questioned the accuracy of certain statements made by law enforcement in an affidavit to obtain a search warrant of the defendant’s house. The government has since filed a new indictment.
After the judge issued the suppression order, the U.S. attorney’s office sent two investigators to interview the state magistrate judge who issued the search warrant. Goodwin said it was “improper” for investigators to seek such an interview and for the judge to entertain it.
“It is inherently intimidating to send federal officers to question a state magistrate judge,” Goodwin wrote, “and it is clearly out of bounds for the magistrate judge to provide the interview regarding his judicial decision-making in a matter pending before this court.”
Reuters published yet another article today expanding on the earlier report, noting that more than one federal judge in West Virginia, as well as a unanimous panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals found that this particular drug task force in West Virginia has been engaged in unconstitutional violations pertaining to search warrants.
Goodwin, in fact, has criticized the practices of the Metropolitan Drug Enforcement Network (MDENT) in particular in at least three other decisions since 2017, a review of court records shows. The MDENT is composed of officers from agencies including the Charleston Police and Kanawha County Sheriff’s Office, the Drug Enforcement Agency and the state police.
The judge tossed out evidence in a drug case last year, holding that the Charleston Police, MDENT, and a Kanawha County magistrate had again failed to respect constitutional limits on searches and seizures. The MDENT’s warrant was based on “unsourced and undescribed” information that someone was selling drugs and the discovery of three marijuana stems in the trash from that person’s home – which the judge said was clearly insufficient.
“I fear this is becoming a pattern,” Goodwin wrote on April 28, 2021, pointing to a similar ruling in another MDENT case from a week earlier.
The MDENT has also been admonished for what courts described as open and purposeful disregard of the legal limits on searches and seizures by at least one other judge of the Southern District of West Virginia, and in a unanimousopinion by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
This is the same federal court who presided over the Keith Sizemore case I litigated, where the Court denied a police officer qualified immunity in a civil rights lawsuit for providing false information in a search warrant application.
What you’re about to see, demonstrated in black and white courtesy of the federal judiciary, is proof of a pattern and practice of police misconduct. This is a documented pattern of Fourth Amendment violations, where drug task force officers knowingly violate the Constitution, with the complicity, or ignorance, of multiple state-level magistrate judges, who are not required to have law degrees to hold office, and who generally don’t. Moreover, many times the state-level magistrates, elected in countywide elections, are themselves retired law enforcement officers.
West Virginia is in serious need of search warrant reform. By the way, federal investigators in West Virginia, so I’m told, are required to go to Circuit Court judges, rather than magistrates, in federal criminal investigations in West Virginia.
Here’s the Court’s ruling on the motion for reconsideration in the case of U.S. v. Lark, as cited in the Reuters article:
Here’s the original suppression order which the government was seeking reconsideration in the Lark case. Note that the federal prosecutors here are not interested in actually having the Court reconsider the admissibility of the evidence, but rather solely with the career prospects of the police officer found by the federal judge to have provided false information in a search warrant application:
It would be interesting to find out if a single one of these police officers who were determined by the federal judiciary to have provided false information in a search warrant application were ever thereafter placed on a “Brady List” for disclosure to criminal defendants in cases involving these officers…..
Deanna Eder, public affairs officer for Thompson, declined to comment in the pending case. But she did issue a statement to The West Virginia Record about Goodwin’s concerns.
“Upon taking office on October 13, 2021, U.S. Will Thompson began a thorough review of all of his office’s policies and procedures to determine what, if any, changes were needed,” Eder told The Record. “The United States Attorney served as a state circuit court judge for almost 15 years prior to his role as U.S. Attorney and brings that experience analyzing constitutional and suppression issues to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
“As a result of his review of policies and procedures, and prior to the order in the Lark case, U.S. Attorney Thompson implemented a new process for reviewing search warrant applications. The U.S. Attorney’s Office has reviewed the court’s order in the Lark matter and takes the Court’s concerns seriously.”
You may recall the West Virginia judge who was featured in traffic stop body cam footage, which resulted in the filing of formal judicial disciplinary charges against him due to his behavior during and after the stop. That judicial disciplinary litigation is apparently ongoing, as it is being contested by the judge. But wait, there’s more…. Believe it or not, the same judge has now had a separate set of formal charges lodged against him by the West Virginia Judicial Investigation Commission. The new Formal Statement of Charges, filed on February 14, 2022, and just released today, contains allegations pertaining to, of all things, the Walmart self checkout process.
To refresh your recollection, the first set of charges were filed on October 25, 2021. After finding out about their existence, I served a FOIA request on the Moorefield Police Department, where the incident occurred, and requested the body cam footage referenced in the charges. I then posted the relevant footage on Youtube, of course, so that the public could see it, which is a necessary component of government accountability. That video, as of this time, has been viewed 270,108 times, has 5.2 thousand likes and 2,452 comments, mostly appearing to be in condemnation and disgust of the judge’s behavior.
The new formal statement of charges alleges that on August 18, 2021, Judge Williams “left the Moorefield Walmart without paying for ten or so items in his shopping cart.” Moorefield Police Chief Stephen Riggleman described the allegations in a police report, where he noted that he arrived at Walmart on September 13, 2021 on an unrelated call and was informed that there was another incident which needed investigating. The chief wrote that the asset protection officer at the store provided him with evidence involving Judge Williams:
[The asset protection associate] provided this officer with a training receipt and still photograph of an individual known to me as Charles “Carter” Williams. This officer then watched video surveillance footage of Williams utilizing a self-check out register where he was observed scanning, bagging and placing the bagged merchandise into his shopping cart.
Williams is then observed pushing his shopping cart out of the store without making any attempts to pay for the items.
Chief Riggleman then wrote in his report that he notified the Hardy County Prosecutor, Lucas See, and reported the incident, given the fact that the suspect was the local circuit court judge, who he noted was already under a judicial disciplinary investigation involving the body-cam incident with the Moorefield police officer. The chief then noted that he decided the best course of action would be to contact Judge Williams and “direct him to pay for the merchandise.” He lamented, however, that this wasn’t the first time:
It should also be noted that approximately one year ago a similar incident occurred with [Judge] Williams at the Moorefield Walmart where he and his wife had pushed out a substantial amount of merchandise without paying. It was determined that neither party realized that the other had not paid for the items.
In fact, as the statement of charges alleges, the shopping buggy pushed out of the Walmart in the earlier incident was “valued at approximately $300.00 and that another individual was with [Judge Williams] when the incident took place.”
Apparently the investigators were aware of the first Walmart mishap, and they asked him about it, during his sworn statement during the body-cam incident investigation. Contrary to evidence later obtained by investigators, the judge sort of laughed it off and said that it was an incident a couple years ago where he forgot to pay for $52.00 worth of goods and that his wife was not present, but that a lady he knew, who worked at Walmart, was present, and that the lady “still works there,” claiming that, “[w]e laugh about it.”
Investigators note in the new statement of charges that the county prosecutor, who initially reported the judge on the body-cam allegations, never disclosed to them that there was actually another Walmart allegation, occurring only three weeks before the judge provided them with a sworn statement about the first Walmart allegation and the body-cam incident allegation. They only found out about the August 18, 2021 Walmart incident after Chief Riggleman disclosed its existence on February 10, 2022.
It also appears that the judge failed to disclose the existence of the second Walmart incident to the appropriate authorities. Paragraphs 19 and 20 from the new charges are redacted, but they do state that the judge “also never disclosed the August 18, 2021 Walmart incident to [somebody]” who is unnamed, claiming that the judge was unaware of the August 18, 2021 allegations until the same day as his February 11, 2022 interview by judicial disciplinary investigators. In other words, nobody advised him that he had failed to pay for the merchandise.
But wait a minute…. The judge apparently claimed during his February 11, 2022 sworn statement that he had no idea that he had left Walmart on August 18, 2021 without paying for merchandise, and only discovered the existence of the allegations on the very day of his questioning by investigators on February 11, 2022. To the contrary however, other local officials say otherwise, for which there appears to be documentation.
Chief Riggleman noted in his September 13, 2021 report that he reviewed video footage of Judge Williams pushing unpaid merchandise in a cart to his vehicle at the Moorefield Walmart, and that he subsequently contacted Judge Williams directly and directed him to pay for the merchandise. Riggleman also wrote in his report that the county prosecutor called him on September 14, 2021 and advised him that he had received a call from Judge Williams advising that he wished to pay for the items; that it was an unintentional mistake. The chief’s report is corroborated by text messages between the judge and the prosecutor, which were obtained by judicial investigators, dated September 16 and 17, 2021 (clearly prior to February 11, 2022):
Judge: If you could get that amount from [the Walmart asset protection associate] tomorrow I’d really appreciate it. Thanks so much.
Prosecutor: Gotcha!! She was supposed to call me yesterday but I guess she forgot. I’ll take care of it first thing in the morning.
Prosecutor: $42.21. Do you want me to stop by your house and get a check?
Judge: I have Covide so I’ll put a check in an envelope on my wall there at my driveway. I’m in a hearing so I probably won’t have it there until around 12:30. If you could take it up there I’d really appreciate it.
Prosecutor: I can do that.
Judge: Ok. It may be in a zip lock bag. I’ll hand sanitize good before I handle any of that. Thanks a lot Lucas.
Prosecutor: No problem!!
The next day, the texts between the judge and the prosecutor continued, even discussing the name of the lady at Walmart. The prosecutor relates that the Walmart asset protection lady wanted to communicate to the judge that she doesn’t want the judge to be “mad at Walmart about it.”
Two sayings come to mind: “where there’s smoke, there’s fire;” and also, “sometimes the cover-up is worse than the crime.” Trial lawyers often leave the the most important question unasked at the end of an important line of questioning. Where the evidence is strong, one need not even ask the ultimate question, because the answer doesn’t matter. It’s obvious. The new statement of charges appears to establish that Judge Williams provided false testimony during his February 11, 2022 sworn statement, claiming to be unaware of the August, 2021 Walmart incident (as being the reason he failed to disclose it to investigators during questioning just three weeks afterwards, on October 6, 2021).
Numerous rules of the West Virginia Code of Judicial Conduct were alleged to have been violated, according to a unanimous vote of the Judicial Investigation Commission, which found probable cause. Judge Williams has been served with the charges and has a right to file responsive pleadings with the West Virginia Supreme Court within 30 days.
The Disability Rights Section of the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division sent a letter to the Pennsylvania State Court System, advising them that following an investigation, several of their county court systems were found to have violated federal disability discrimination laws. I just happened to come across this and hadn’t seen it in the news anywhere. But this seems important. This has been happening in West Virginia for years, and no doubt is happening across the country.
The Justice Department found that the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania, through the actions of its component courts, violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by prohibiting or limiting the use of disability-related medication to treat Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) by individuals under court supervision.
The Justice Department identified three specific individuals with OUD who had been discriminated against by the Northumberland and Jefferson County Courts of Common Pleas. Two individuals alleged that the Jefferson County Court ordered all probationers to stop using their prescribed medication for OUD. A third individual alleged that the Northumberland County Court required her to stop using her prescribed OUD medication to graduate from drug court. The department’s investigation corroborated these allegations and additionally found evidence that multiple other county courts in Pennsylvania have treatment court policies that discriminate against individuals with OUD.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): “OUD medication gives people the time and ability to make necessary life changes associated with long-term remission and recovery,” “minimizes cravings and withdrawal symptoms,” and “lets people better manage other aspects of their life, such as parenting, attending school, or working.”
Methadone, naltrexone, and buprenorphine (including brand names Subutex and Suboxone) are medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat OUD. According to the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), methadone and buprenorphine help diminish the effects of physical dependency on opioids, such as withdrawal symptoms and cravings, by activating the same opioid receptors in the brain targeted by prescription or illicit opioids without producing euphoria.
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.
A West Virginia Circuit Court judge has been charged with violating the rules of judicial conduct after he verbally accosted a young police officer in his jurisdiction who had pulled him over for allegedly using his cell phone while driving and abusing his power. I obtained the raw body cam footage. This happened in Moorefield, West Virginia. During the stop, the judge calls the officer’s supervisor and allegedly attempts to stop the issuance of a ticket. After the stop he makes even more phone calls, and even shows up at the mayor’s house later that evening. He was investigated and charged by judicial disciplinary authorities.