In November of 2021, I posted a video showing a West Virginia judge flipping out at a traffic stop in Moorefield, West Virginia. In response to a stop he admitted was justified, but yet he nevertheless pulled rank on a young police officer, immediately identifying himself as a judge, getting his supervisor on the phone, and later trying to get him fired, including threatening judicial retaliation against that department. I got the footage first through a public records request and showed it to you. Then you responded. The wheels of justice have turned. There were charges, a trial, and now an ending….
Well, we did it. Youtube did it. We took down a judge who was violating the Constitution. On March 4, 2020, Family Court Judge Louise Goldston was filmed by my client, Matt Gibson, searching his house as part of a divorce proceeding. A few days later we uploaded the footage to Youtube. Outrage ensued. Disciplinary charges ensued. A federal civil rights lawsuit ensued. An impeachment in the state legislature ensued. Well, she has now resigned, in face of the imminent impeachment.
And as of today, I just discovered this breaking news: two additional West Virginia family court judges have also been charged for their part in conspiring to help Judge Goldston avoid disciplinary prosecution. Here are formal statement of charges for Family Court Judge Stotler and Family Court Judge Rock, just obtained today from the West Virginia Supreme Court:
Here’s the latest information I’ve received on the status of the impeachment proceedings in the West Virginia legislature, seeking to remove Family Court Judge Louise Goldston. Apparently, political pressure is being exerted behind-the-scenes. Additionally, an anonymous letter was sent to eight legislators set to vote on the impeachment. I can confirm that at least two of those legislators received it. I’m told that as of now, the impeachment is proceeding, beginning as early as Monday.
This is the anonymous letter received by multiple state legislators:
At this link you can find the contact information for each of these legislators, as well as all other members of the West Virginia House of Delegates.
Huge news this week. Apparently the West Virginia legislature has initiated impeachment proceedings against the family court judge we sued in federal court. More than that, the basis for the impeachment is actually the judge’s responses to my questions to her during her deposition in the civil lawsuit.
A West Virginia Family Court Judge is the subject of an impeachment resolution to be introduced by the WV House of Delegates on Monday following the commission of a warrantless search which violated, among other things, Constitutional rights of West Virginia citizens….
A March 1, 2021, deposition saw Goldston declare, under oath, “I don’t believe I violated the canons of ethics.”
When asked specifically whether she regretted physically entering Gibson’s home, Goldston responded, “Do I think I did anything wrong? No.”
Imagine your 77 year old grandmother sitting at home one day and an entire SWAT team shows up and raids her house, just because someone’s stolen iPhone supposedly pings at the location. No phone call, no knock and talk, no investigation at all. Just SWAT team. Well that happened.
It was January 4, 2022. Ruby Johnson, 77 years old, a law-abiding citizen and grandmother, was alone at her home. She lives in a neighborhood called Montbello – considered to be one of Denver’s minority neighborhoods, located in northeast Denver, Colorado. Denver Police SWAT executed a search warrant at her home, looking for a stolen vehicle and guns, based entirely on Apple tracking software, “Find My iPhone.” They found nothing and achieved nothing but the contempt they earned from the victim, her family and others in the neighborhood.
The day before the raid, a 2007 white Chevy truck with Texas license plates was stolen from a downtown Denver hotel parking garage. The driver rammed it through the gate and fled. Inside was $4,000 cash, two drones and an iPhone 11. Hours later, the hotel notified the guest who owned the truck and he began tracking the iPhone via the Find My iPhone app. The app supposedly led to Ruby Johnson’s home, before it disappeared.
Based solely on that, the Denver Police Department obtained a search warrant. They chose not to conduct any surveillance or other investigation at the location. They didn’t even bother to drive by the house to see if the stolen truck was there. Or maybe even next door. Nor did they bother to even go perform one of their beloved “knock and talks” at the actual location where the phone pinged. Instead, they activated the SWAT team. Just to be safe, of course. It is a minority neighborhood, after all….
About a dozen Denver SWAT officers poured into the home. They sifted through boxes with the help of a K-9 unit. They used a battering ram to try to open the rear garage door. They broke down the attic door. They also cut the lock to her shed.
Officer Joe Montoya, the head stormtrooper, in an interview with channel 9 news, said officers researched the property and knew 77 year old Ruby Johnson lived at the home alone, which is why they used the “lowest threshold of aggression.” If this SWAT team, along with an armored vehicle, is their lowest threshold of aggression, I’d say their higher thresholds must involve those new-fangled exploding robots. Officer Montoya, like a good government trooper, was just following orders. They’re just doing what stormtroopers do. It’s up to prosecutors and judges to stop them. They have no minds of their own. Here’s what he said:
“I’m not going to second guess the investigation,” he said. “The proper steps were taken. The place where that would have been questioned would have been the DA’s Office and the judge’s level. And they felt comfortable signing that warrant.”
So what about them? Denver Deputy District Attorney Ashley Beck and Judge Beth Faragher both approved the warrant. Kristin Wood, a spokesperson for Denver County Court, said: “Judge Faragher signed the search warrant because she found probable cause existed,” Wood wrote in an email. “If a judge did not find probable cause, he/she would not sign the search warrant.” Prosecutor Beck also would not directly comment. Instead, a spokesperson wrote in an email that the warrant passed legal muster: “I can tell you that our office is obligated to review every search warrant the Denver Police Department writes to ensure it is legally sufficient based on the facts to which the detective swears,” Carolyn Tyler wrote in an email.
So, at least through their spokespersons, the officers blame the judge and prosecutor; the judge blames the prosecutor and officers, and the prosecutor blames the officers and the judge. This is perfectly representative of the efficiency and competency of your government. This is why the DMV runs so smoothly and is your favorite place to visit.
It’s true though that there are two important things to look at when reviewing warrants:
The information provided by law enforcement, under oath, to the judge reviewing the allegations for probable cause; and
Whether those allegations are sufficient to comprise probable cause for the issuance of the warrant.
Looking at the actual search warrant application, completed by Detective Gary Staab, it appears that he relied solely on representations made to him by the owner of the stolen items and did absolutely nothing himself. He notes in the application to the judge that the owner told him that the iPhone pinged to the house and that he drove by the location in a rented vehicle, but that he did not see his stolen truck there.
However, the application notes, theoretically, the stolen phone could be inside the closed garage at the residence. Also theoretically, which the detective notes in his copy and paste warrant, his vast experience tells him that stolen items can be removed from a stolen vehicle and theoretically placed in a garage.
That’s pretty much it. He includes a copy of the owner’s Find My iPhone screenshot and his photos of the residence. The detective did nothing himself. Instead of actually going and knocking on the door, talking to people – you know, detective work – let’s just activate the SWAT team and bust down the door. It’s a black neighborhood, after all. Guns were stolen. Therefore we have black people with guns, potentially. Better bring the armored vehicle as well. Yes she’s a 77 year old grandmother with no criminal history. But you never know. Officers have to make it home that night.
As officers searched her home, Ruby Johnson waited in the back seat of a police car. She told channel 9 news afterwards that the experience was traumatizing and led her to feel unsafe in the home she has lived in for about 40 years. “When I start thinking about it, tears start coming down,” she said. Ruby’s longtime friends have noticed a sadness they hadn’t seen in her before. They don’t see her smile anymore.
Officer Joe Montoya, division chief of investigations with DPD, said the department did not intend to harm Johnson and regrets that the warrant caused suffering.
“We can always apologize and I’d be willing to apologize that there was a warrant issued and evidence was not found there,” Montoya said. “That’s a given, but I don’t think there was anything done to intentionally traumatize her.”
They just don’t get it, do they? They chose to obtain a search warrant and send a SWAT team there. They knew that the only person who lived there was a 77 year old woman who was a law abiding citizen. Yet they sent a SWAT team there first, instead of treating the woman as Officer Montoya no doubt would want his own grandmother treated. They chose to traumatize her. Because they only think of themselves. Officer safety is the only thing that matters to them.
By the way, the stolen truck was later recovered two days after the warrant was executed about six miles away in Aurora. The stolen guns were not in the truck, of course. No arrests have been made.
The point here is, this is a prime example of the fact that police and government misconduct can happen to you, even if you’ve done nothing wrong. This was all done lawfully. Valid search warrant. Valid search. Innocent victim. Wrong house. No stolen items found. This will continue to happen because police officers are not held accountable for their actions. Prosecutors are not held accountable for their actions. And judges certainly aren’t held accountable for their actions. I can guarantee you these things would stop happening if qualified immunity was abolished. If prosecutorial absolute immunity was abolished. If judicial immunity was abolished. But as it is now, they just don’t care, because there are no consequences. The only thing we can do is expose what they’ve done.
You may remember the judge who was alleged to have pulled a gun in the courtroom, then denied doing so, then apparently admitted to doing so. The saga has apparently now just ended. For now. You may be asking yourself, which West Virginia judge is this again? Let’s run through a few of the crazy cases of West Virginia judges gone wild real quick, then I’ll tell you what happened. We have to set the context here. Some of these cases are absolutely insane.
There’s the family court judge I filed a lawsuit against for personally performing an illegal search of my client’s house, who was deprived of judicial immunity in the lawsuit. She’s currently appealing to the Fourth Circuit. The Institute for Justice recently announced that they joined the case and published a great video about it. Here’s the last update video I did on that case:
Here’s the IJ’s video on it:
Here’s the excellent brief the IJ filed in that case:
There’s the case of the West Virginia circuit court judge who acted up at a traffic stop. I was the one who first obtained and released that footage on Youtube. That judicial disciplinary case is still ongoing. That judge was recommended for suspension. Here’s my previous video with the footage:
Here’s the decision from the Judicial Hearing Board recommending discipline:
In one hearing, the opinion says, when speaking to a woman who was seeking an order of protection against her then-husband in a domestic violence case, Watkins blamed the woman for “shooting off your fat mouth about what happened,” told her to “Shut up!” and then continued:
“Shut up! You stupid woman. Can’t even act properly. One more word out of you that you aren’t asked a question you’re out of here, and you will be found in direct contempt of court and I will fine you appropriately. So, shut your mouth.You know I hate it when people are just acting out of sheer spite and stupidity.”
Here’s the full video referenced in the article:
There was, probably the worst of all – no definitely the worst of all, as far as my recollection goes – Judge Thornsbury, who was indicted by the feds for official corruption in Mingo County, West Virginia. That one made national headlines.
Judge Thornsbury is charged with conspiring to violate the constitutional rights of a victim identified as “R.W.,” who was the husband of Thornsbury’s secretary. In early 2008, the indictment alleges, Thornsbury began a romantic relationship with his secretary, identified as “K.W.,” which she broke off in June of that year. After K.W. ended the relationship, Thornsbury instructed a co-conspirator to plant illegal drugs underneath R.W.’s pickup truck and then arranged for police to stop R.W. and search for the drugs. The co-conspirator tasked with planting the drugs backed out of the plan at the last minute, thwarting Thornsbury’s scheme.
Thornsbury then tried a different approach, the indictment alleges. R.W. worked at a coal preparation plant, where newly mined coal was processed before shipping. One of the plant’s functions was to remove scrap metal that had fallen into the coal during mining. Thornsbury learned that R.W.’s supervisors had given him permission to salvage scrap items, including drill bits, that were found amid coal at the plant, which were simply discarded if R.W. did not collect them.
Thornsbury secretly instructed a West Virginia state trooper to file a criminal complaint that falsely alleged R.W. was stealing the scrap material from his employer. The trooper resisted, telling Thornsbury that R.W. was allowed to salvage the scrap, but ultimately yielded to Thornsbury’s demands, filing a false criminal complaint that led to R.W.’s arrest for grand larceny in December 2008.
Fast forward to a Charleston Gazette-Mail article from March 13, 2018: “Ex-Mingo judge Thornsbury to be released from prison this week.” That article explained that a federal judge sentenced the former judge to 50 months in prison in June of 2014 after he pled guilty to one count of conspiracy against civil rights. It also explained that the judge’s criminal conduct was only exposed due to the murder of the sheriff in that county, which ended up revealing a criminal scheme involving the judge, the murdered sheriff, the former Mingo Prosecuting Attorney, as well as a former County Commissioner.
But wait, we’re not done just yet. There was the West Virginia judge who bit a guy’s nose…. This was one was a little bit before my time. I was playing high school football at the time this story came out. October 24, 1997, the AP reports, “Feisty Judge Bites Unruly Defendant’s Nose.” This one is actually pretty interesting and probably deserves a video of its own.
Joseph Troisi, a 47-year-old judge on the Pleasants County Circuit Court, could get up to a year in jail and a $500 fine for the alleged attack June 26 against Bill Witten, 29. Troisi still faces federal civil rights charges carrying up to 10 years in prison. Troisi was accused of stepping down from the bench, taking off his robe and confronting Witten after the defendant cursed at the judge while being led out of the courtroom. Afterward, witnesses said, Troisi returned to the bench as if nothing happened.
A report prepared for the state Supreme Court said Troisi, who was first elected to the bench in 1992, had a long-standing inability to control his temper on the bench. In all, Troisi lost his temper 19 times in the past two years, the report said.
A former judge who served five days behind bars for biting a defendant’s nose was ordered back to jail for the rest of his original six-month sentence Wednesday for violating the terms of his probation.
Circuit Judge Arthur Recht ruled that former county judge Joseph Troisi inappropriately confronted and provoked a court official who had testified against him in the nose-biting case.
Troisi admitted on the stand that he called Pleasants County Deputy Circuit Clerk Ward Grose a liar and other epithets in the St. Marys courthouse June 30. But he showed little remorse over the incident.
“I feel it was stupid. I don’t feel it was wrong,″ Troisi said of his behavior.
Troisi resigned from the bench and pleaded no contest to battery charges in October 1997 for biting the nose of a defendant after a contentious bail hearing. He served five days in jail and received one year of probation.
West Virginia lawmakers completed the extraordinary move of impeaching all four state Supreme Court justices Monday night for spending issues, including a suspended justice facing a 23-count federal indictment.
Justice Robin Davis was impeached for $500,000 in office renovations. And lawmakers approved articles against Loughry for spending $363,000 in renovations to his office; having a $42,000 antique desk and computers, all owned by the state, at his home; lying to the House Finance Committee about taking home the desk and a $32,000 suede leather couch; and for his personal use of state vehicles.
Here’s the $32,000 couch. Definitely worth impeachment and prison….
So, of the 5 justices on the West Virginia Supreme Court, Justice Menis Ketchum resigned before impeachment, pled guilty in federal court to one count of wire fraud, and had his license to practice law annulled and was sentenced to three years probation and fined.
Returning back to the judge accused of pulling a gun in the courtroom, here’s the update: Circuit Judge David W. Hummel Jr. submitted his letter of resignation November 23 to Governor Jim Justice.
“I write to advise you that as of the close of business today, I am resigning the position of Circuit Court Judge of the Second Judicial Circuit,” Hummel wrote in the one-paragraph letter, which also was delivered to state Supreme Court Chief Justice John Hutchison. “It has been a terrific honor to serve in this role since January 2009.”
Hummel is the focus of a state Judicial Investigation Commission investigation. Even though the JIC can’t confirm or deny the existence of such a probe, JIC Chief Counsel Teresa Tarr told The Record complaints and investigations are confidential unless the JIC issues formal charges or an admonishment.
Also, Rule 2.2 of the state Rules of Judicial Disciplinary Procedure states, “The resignation of a judge shall not relieve the obligation of the Office of Disciplinary Counsel to investigate a complaint that the judge violated the Code of Judicial Conduct and to fully proceed in accordance with these rules.”
The gun in the courtroom controversy first started when a Texas lawyer, Lauren Varnado, who had been trying a contentious oil and gas case in the oil and gas region of West Virginia – the upper panhandle. She provided allegations to the Daily Beast, who first reported on it. They claimed that the judge initially denied the presence of a gun. Later, video surfaced of the gun. That caused a slight problem with the judge’s denial – or at least the ability to deny the presence of a gun. At the end of the day, the video proves that the judge had the gun out in the courtroom. Here’s my prior video on this one, discussing it in more detail:
Imagine you’re sitting in family court and the judge looks at you and says, what’s your address? I’ll meet you there in 10 minutes, and I’m going to search your house with your ex-wife and my bailiff – a police officer who will arrest you if you don’t let me in. March 4, 2020, that’s what happened to my client. Here’s an update on the current status.
We won on the issue of judicial immunity. Just before the jury trial was set to begin, the defendant judge appealed the case to the Fourth Circuit. Since this matter involves judicial immunity, it’s capable of being appealed prior to trial. Usually a defendant is required to wait until afterwards.
They just filed their brief a couple of days ago. Next it’s our turn to file a response brief, which is due mid-November.
Here’s the federal court opinion denying judicial immunity:
In November of last year I posted a video showing a West Virginia judge flipping out at a traffic stop in Moorefield, West Virginia. In response to a stop he admitted was justified, he nevertheless pulled rank on a young police officer, immediately identifying himself as a judge, getting his supervisor on the phone, and later trying to get him fired, including threatening judicial retaliation against that department. Here’s that video:
I first exclusively obtained the body cam footage via a FOIA request from that police department. Well, now that judge is facing suspension, according to an order that was issued late last week. As explained in my first video on this, Judge Carter Williams was charged with multiple disciplinary violations. Then, in February of this year, I published yet another video about Judge Williams being in trouble again, over allegations that he kept leaving Walmart without paying for his merchandise. I also published a lengthy blog post about it. Here’s the Walmart video:
Since Judge Williams contested the matter, as he’s entitled to do, on June 14 a contested hearing was held before West Virginia’s Judicial Hearing Board over the course of three days. On September 19, the Judicial Hearing Board held a meeting to discuss the evidence presented, and on September 22, they issued an order finding that numerous judicial ethics rules were violated and recommending specific discipline to the West Virginia Supreme Court. Here’s the order:
The Judicial Hearing Board actually hit the nail pretty much on the head when it wrote in the order:
“There is clear and convincing evidence that the Respondent engaged in conduct that was prejudicial to the administration of justice by being unnecessarily belligerent to the traffic officer, by contacting the traffic officer’s supervisor in a manner suggesting he wanted special treatment and punishment for the traffic officer, by contacting the police chief, former police chief, and mayor in a manner suggesting he wanted special treatment, punishment for the traffic officer, and that his rulings in future cases might be influenced by his traffic stop and the action or inaction taken by police officials in response to his complaints against the officer, and by contacting the prosecuting attorney regarding this same subject matter.”
They recommended that Judge Williams be suspended for a period of one year, with all but three months of that suspension be stayed, pending “supervised probation.” Sounds familiar I’d say. So in effect, a three month suspension, without pay, but the possibility of up to a year with bad behavior. Additionally, they recommended a $5,000 fine, as well as reimbursement of $11,129.06 for costs. So we’ll have to wait to see what the West Virginia Supreme Court does with it. Also, I take it this did not include the Walmart allegations, which are still pending as far as I can tell.
In the early morning hours of October 12, 2021, Corey Jones got up early to work on some property improvements at his home, clearing brush around his acreage. He got out there early because he had to take his kids to school. Since it was still dark out, he used a headlamp. Unbeknownst to him at the time, the horse-owning Karen next door called 911 on him, complaining that she saw a guy in the woods on her neighbor’s property. She did this despite the fact that she had no idea who her neighbor was. Officers from the Pope County, Arkansas, Sherriff’s Department arrive, listen to her explanation, and then trespass onto Corey’s property, confronting him, and then arresting him. Everything that happens here is outrageous. But also instructive. Corey is a subscriber to my channel, and has graciously allowed me to share what happened.
When the officers arrive – this is Sgt. Damon McMillan and Deputy Hayden Saffold, both of the Pope County Sheriff’s Department – the Karen again tells them same story. Of particular importance here is the fact that she clearly does not allege that Corey trespassed onto her property. She’s claiming that she was subjectively scared of someone she saw on someone else’s property, which in fact was the property owner. She admittedly has no idea who owns the property. She makes no allegation of any crime, other than expressing her own fear of nothing.
Now the officer notices Corey on his property. He now becomes the one trespassing, as he confronts Corey. Of course, he’s got to have that ID – like an addict. Does he care that he’s on private property and has no idea who the owner is? Of course not.
Corey ends up being arrested for violation of § 5-54-102. Obstructing governmental operations, which provides that:
(a) A person commits the offense of obstructing governmental operations if the person:
(1) Knowingly obstructs, impairs, or hinders the performance of any governmental function;
The Arkansas courts have defined “governmental function as “any activity which a public servant is legally authorized to undertake on behalf of any governmental unit he serves.”
Thus the Arkansas obstruction statute does not specifically provide a mandatory requirement to provide ID to a police officer. Rather, it criminalizes the providing of a false ID to an officer. However, it does criminalize “obstructing” any activity which a public servant is “legally authorized to undertake…”
Arkansas Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.1 provides that:
A law enforcement officer lawfully present in any place may, in the performance of his duties, stop and detain any person who he reasonably suspects is committing, has committed, or is about to commit (1) a felony, or (2) a misdemeanor involving danger of forcible injury to persons or of appropriation of or damage to property, if such action is reasonably necessary either to obtain or verify the identification of the person or to determine the lawfulness of his conduct….
Thus it appears that the officers in Arkansas may detain individuals if they suspect that individual committed a felony or certain dangerous or damaging misdemeanors. It would be a stretch to even include trespassing into that category – especially where they have no complaint from the owner of the property, and are actually themselves trespassing and confronting the actual property owner.
The footage was very clear that the property owner, who did identify himself as owning the property, expressed that they were not welcome. I really don’t see any basis for the officers having a reasonable suspicion of any crime having been committed here. Nor does it appear that if they had such suspicion of simple trespassing, that their actions would have been justified.
The officers are clearly worried about ending up on Youtube or in the media, as well as the fact that they suspect Corey of being anti-police, which is ironic under the circumstances. A solid case could be made here that what they actually are doing is retaliating against Corey, in violation of his First Amendment rights.
Sadly, part of the story here is what happened afterwards. I’d like to tell you that the charges were dismissed. But apparently Corey ended up being convicted of the obstruction charge. On what basis? I really don’t know. But I do know that the judge who convicted him, I’m told, was Judge Don Bourne of Pope County, Arkansas.
A little over a week ago, our old friends KARK in Little Rock reported that the Arkansas Supreme Court officially suspended Judge Don Bourne without pay for ethical violations, including mistreating litigants in her courtroom and failing to appoint lawyers for criminal defendants. Basically, for running a kangaroo court. I also found this gem, where KARK showed footage of Judge Bourne threatening a defendant with prison rape, among other things. It was only a two week suspension, but thankfully, after his term expires in 2024, he will never again be allowed to serve as a judge in Arkansas. Why even allow him to remain at all?
Hopefully an Arkansas lawyer can swoop in and save the day here. I wish I could help, and I’d be happy to, to the extent that I can. But I’m not an Arkansas lawyer. Perhaps there’s more to the story, I don’t know, but the footage shows what the footage shows. I trust in the footage. And I really feel bad for Corey Jones. He was mistreated by his government – by a couple of tyrant thugs, egged on by a despicable Karen. I’d love to see a civil lawsuit here. Usually, however, you have to win on the underlying criminal charges – which is probably why Officer King George, III is pushing them. He wants to know why anyone would be anti-government or anti-police? Because of swamp creatures like you.
A few weeks ago I posted the video of my clients in McDowell County, West Virginia encountering a similar type of tyranny within the curtilage of their home. The point was, you can’t be on my curtilage without my consent and demand an ID – even if you have reasonable suspicion. Here, however, it looks like we’re not dealing with curtilage, but rather what the courts call “open fields.” Generally, unfortunately, there are no federal Fourth Amendment property protections for open fields. The line between a home’s curtilage and the adjacent open fields can sometimes be a grey area.
However, that doesn’t mean that state trespassing and criminal procedure laws aren’t applicable. I see no Arkansas law that allows police officers to trespass on your private property against your consent and demand your ID to ascertain whether you are trespassing on your own property. Quite the opposite.
Federal Fourth Amendment protections will always apply to the person. Federal law prohibits an investigative detention – i.e., give me your ID or I’ll arrest you – in the absence of reasonable suspicion. The Karen neighbor alleged to crime that was committed. She alleged only her objectively unreasonable and irrational fears. There was no allegation of trespassing. A police officer’s own irrational subjectively unreasonable fear that someone theoretically could be trespassing on a particular property, without more, cannot be valid reasonable suspicion. Especially under these circumstances.
A dozen or so people sent me this media story over the weekend involving a West Virginia judge who has been accused of pulling a gun in his courtroom, mocking the “man purse” of a Texas lawyer’s ex-CIA private security contractor, and otherwise treating her abusively and unfairly. It was first published in the Daily Beast, and also was published in the WV Record on Friday. Now it’s even made the Daily Mail. This involves West Virginia state court Circuit Court Judge David Hummel, in the small town of New Martinsville, in Wetzel County, West Virginia, who presided over a trial regarding gas royalty payments to landowners back in March, being tried by a Texas corporate attorney, Lauren Varnado. She is apparently the source of the allegations. Despite this going viral in the national news, I’m going to point out something to you that I think they may have overlooked. More on that in a minute.
(ETA: For some reason the Youtube version of the video cut-off the end of the video. Here’s the Facebook version, which has my full video: https://fb.watch/emqkmtitvS/ )
Varnado describes a hostile relationship with the judge after asking him to recuse himself based on a conflict of interest involving the judge’s parents receiving gas royalty payments. She also described a hostile relationship with the local community, requiring professional security. I’m pretty sure this has happened before in West Virginia. Angry locals, armed corporate security, and good ‘ole boy judges. Varnado ended up going to the FBI. And apparently, the Daily Beast. I don’t live in this region in West Virginia, so this is the first I’m hearing of the underlying conflict, or these allegations. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard of this judge, and I’m certain that I’ve never appeared before him.
In any event, the Daily Beast reported that Judge Hummel “whipped out his handgun, waved it in the air and left it on the bench with the barrel pointing directly at corporate lawyers who had irritated him.” This is supposed to have occurred on a Saturday, out of the presence of the jury.
At first, Hummel told the Daily Beast that never happened. Then, he told the reporter he kept the gun, a Colt .45, in a secret drawer in his bench. Then, he said he was wearing a holstered gun under his robe during the trial the previous week. But he said it was a long, classic-looking revolver from the Wild West days called a Colt Peacemaker. Then, Hummel told the reporter he did show Varnado a first aid kit.
“But it was casual,” Hummel told the Daily Beast reporter. “I did show her a foiled packet and said this is blood coagulant. We have preparations for active shooter situations.”
The firearm incident from the Saturday hearing occurred after the Texas defense team attempted to remove Judge Hummel from the case over an alleged conflict of interest. According to the Daily Beast article:
[T]he gas company’s lawyers accused the judge of never disclosing that his parents get gas company royalties that may someday pass on to him—sparking questions about a glaring conflict of interest. When the gas company’s lawyers sought to disqualify him, court transcripts show he grew increasingly aggravated at Varnado and her team.
At an April 2021 court hearing in which he was asked about his family’s gas interests, the transcript shows how the judge patronized EQT’s lawyers as he detailed his family tree and dismissed their concerns, ranting about how his cousin “Christy” got mad at him for not recognizing her at a wedding. When the attempt to have higher state courts disqualify him failed, Hummel started the next court hearing in similar fashion.
Varnado claims that the firearm was a constant part of the litigation. I’m not opposed to that in theory. But here’s what she said, specifically:
“The first time I saw Judge Hummel with a firearm was at the Huey pretrial conference at the Wetzel County Courthouse on March 1, 2022,” she said in an affidavit. “At the pretrial conference, Judge Hummel wore a black handgun in a holster on his hip with his judicial robe unzipped.”
During the trial, she said Hummel would walk around the courtroom with his robe unzipped and the firearm visible.
“I asked Judge Hummel during a break in trial about his firearm,” Varnado said in the affidavit. “Judge Hummel confirmed that the gun was a Colt .45 handgun. He wore the gun in a holster without exception throughout the trial.”
Why were guns even being discussed in the first place? Apparently the gas royalty trial involved perceived safety threats to the Texas legal team, who says that they hired ex-CIA officers as professional security. However, the judge didn’t allow the security team into the courtroom. Instead, Judge Hummel is alleged to have stood up, opened his robe, pulled his gun out of the holster on his hep and held it in his right hand, stating “I promise you, I’ll take care of them.” It sounds like the Judge called one of the ex-CIA guys, who was wearing a “man purse,” which he called, “such a sissy-ass contraption.” Judge Hummel then said, “Aren’t me and my guns and security enough?” and said, “My guns are bigger than your security’s guns,” pointing the barrel of his pistol towards the Texas attorneys.
Varnado signed an affidavit stating that, “Judge Hummel then set his gun down on the judicial bench and deliberately rotate the firearm (as it laid on the bench) until the barrel of the gun was pointing directly at me.” She alleges that the handgun remained on the bench, pointed at her, for the duration of the hearing. And then some:
The gun stayed there for the rest of the hearing. When the attorneys were directed to negotiate in a private room, they found the handgun still waiting for them when they returned. When lawyers had to approach the judge, the resting gun remained pointed at their faces.
One thing about this. In the Daily Mail article, they showed a photo of the inside of this particular courtroom. Here it is is. One thing that caught my attention was that it doesn’t necessarily appear that lawyers in the room would be able to see a gun, or the direction in which it was pointing, if it was sitting on the bench directly in front of the judge. Here’s the photo:
Maybe Varnado was referring to a different table, or perhaps the photo is either the wrong courtroom, or misleading as to the angles involved. It’s also possible that they only saw it when they walked into, or out of, the negotiation room. But in any event, she went to the FBI following the hearing.
Varnado says she contacted the FBI’s Pittsburgh office immediately following the hearing. After that phone call, she made a written report to the FBI via email. The next day, she says she had a second phone call with the FBI. On March 16, she met with the FBI in Pittsburgh.
She says she didn’t report the incident to the state Judicial Investigation Commission or any law enforcement in West Virginia because “we were – and still are – afraid.”
Varnado further alleges that the firearms discussion was not included in the certified transcript of the hearing – that she saw Judge Hummel gesturing to the court reported to go on or off the record, whenever he wanted to keep things out of the transcript. This included any discussion of Varnado’s ex-CIA security detail.
“The whole trial was insane,” she told The Record. “Why does a judge need to exert more power over us than he already can? Why would he need a gun in his courtroom?
“He took the Huey case extremely personally for some reason. I still don’t understand why. There was nothing super controversial about it, but he took it very personally.
“And yes, I am from out of state. I know what that means. I don’t really care if he likes me. I just tried to do the best job I could do that I was hired to do. But a courtroom, for a trial attorney, that is your workplace.
“My heart just breaks for the people who have to endure that every day. They don’t have a choice. They’re the real victims. It isn’t about me. If it’s happening to me, way worse things are happening to people who are pro se or indigent.”
The Daily Beast article noted that Judge Hummel is now under investigation, and that some of the judge’s own staff are corroborating the allegation that the judge displayed a gun:
That judge is now under investigation by the state’s judiciary for violating the profession’s code of conduct, according to three witnesses now sharing information with law enforcement and official communications about the investigation reviewed by The Daily Beast. The judge’s own staff has since told an investigator that the judge did, in fact, display his gun openly during an attorneys-only hearing and boasted about having it in his possession, according to two of those witnesses.
The Daily Beast also reported that, although Judge Hummel said there’s no recording of the incident, that a state investigator has acquired a videotape of the interaction. Does this refer to surveillance footage? Was one of the Texas lawyers surreptitiously videoing what was happening? We’ll find out at some point, if the state judicial disciplinary authorities end up charging or publicly admonishing Judge Hummel.
I don’t know what the truth is here. But I do know that one of the reasons I only litigate civil rights violations in federal court, in West Virginia, is because in the state courts you can sometimes deal with what I call the “welcome stranger tax,” which is a good ‘ole boy type biased judge, who treats you unfairly. I personally experienced this in another faraway county in West Virginia, where the local judge refused to let my client out of jail on a Friday, until I drove back to my office 3 hours away, to prepare the order to release him. I asked to use the judge’s computer to prepare a quick order, and he said no, stating that my client should have hired a local attorney, instead of someone from out of town.
I don’t know if that’s the case here, or if this is being blown out of proportion. What I do know is that the judicial investigators have the capability of getting at the truth. They get to take a sworn statement of the judge regarding the allegations. I presume they’ve already done that. They get to subpoena witnesses. And it sounds like they’ve already obtained some statements, as well as some sort of video footage. I should be able to obtain the investigation report at some point with a public records request.
My conclusion here is that I don’t have one yet. I’m not opposed to a judge carrying, or discussing, or even presenting, firearms in a courtroom. But it’s all in the context. Nobody should ever point firearms at anyone – especially not in the context alleged here. Given everything I’ve learned about judges the past couple of years, I wouldn’t take anything off the table, but let’s wait and see what the investigation concludes before jumping the gun.