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…..
UPDATE, and Part 2, to one of the craziest search and seizure cases I’ve ever seen, or personally been involved with: The West Virginia Family Court judge who’s searched the home of a federal law enforcement officer, looking for his ex-wife’s DVDs and other stuff, a year and a half after they divorced….. and got caught by YouTube.
Another UPDATE 10/2/20: The judge has been charged. The Statement of Charges was just released this afternoon:
This afternoon I filed a federal lawsuit against the West Virginia Governor and against Putnam County, and their health department inspector, on behalf of the Bridge Cafe & Bistro, located in Hurricane, West Virginia. We are seeking money damages and attorney’s fees for First Amendment retaliation, after Putnam County threatened my clients with closure in response to their Facebook post expressing their opinions and policies pertaining to the Governor’s mask mandate. We are also suing the Governor and asking the Court to declare the mask mandate, as well as the “Stay at Home Order” unconstitutional and unenforceable.
We believe it’s unconstitutional under the First Amendment, as the mask debate has become just that – political speech. We also believe they are in violation of the 14th Amendment due process clause because they’re an arbitrary deprivation of my clients’ property interests wholly without due process of law. Moreover, they’re also a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, because they treated restaurants in Putnam County, where only two deaths have occurred in over 6 months of the virus, just the same as they treated restaurants where the virus had a greater impact.
Additionally, we believe yesterday’s ruling from Judge Stickman in the Western District of Pennsylvania makes a good case that a Governor unilaterally choosing who is “essential” and who is “non-essential” in smoky rooms, rather than through an open, defined and rational process, is itself a constitutional violation. The Governor cannot enact legislation, period. Not in a time of war; not in a “State of Emergency” which has lasted over 6 months. The sole process for enactment of new laws in West Virginia is via the state legislature, according to the state Constitution. To the extent that counties attempt to enforce unconstitutional and unenforceable executive orders as if they were laws, we believe they can be sued for money damages under Section 1983.
Here’s the actual lawsuit which was filed this afternoon in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia. It doesn’t yet have a case number:
The Rittenhouse shootings were the next logical step of violent riots, combined with government leaders who allow them to occur. What happens when the right to riot collides with the natural rights or life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? Or more specifically, the right to life, i.e., the right to self defense? It may be a new normal in 2020, but we build courthouses for a reason: to sort out the facts, and apply the law. The difficult part is to ensure a fair trial without the media poisoning the potential jury pool with misinformation, and misnomers, such as “armed vigilante,” “assault rifle,” “peaceful protestors,” and so on, and to let the true facts fall where they may. In the end, our Founders demanded, and ensured, that we have the right to a jury of our peers for a very good reason. That’s the only thing standing in between an individual in this position, and a lifetime of being locked away in a cage.
The facts can be sorted out. There are multiple videos of the incident. There will be many pictures and screenshots, and slow motion, or frame by frame versions of the incidents. Easier to determine is, what sort of laws will be applied here?
Possession of Firearms in Wisconsin and Illinois:
Wisconsin firearms law provides for open carry of loaded rifles and pistols for those 18 and older not otherwise prohibited from possessing firearms. Unless Rittenhouse’s age has been incorrectly reported he would be in violation of these statutes. Similar statutes exist in Illinois. Further, in Wisconsin and Illinois, providing an underaged individual with a firearm is a felony. It seems safe to assume that Rittenhouse’s enthusiasm for firearms was supported at least in some measure by his legal guardians. If they knowingly lent him use of the AR he carried in Kenosha they may face charges under these statutes.
Transportation of Firearms between Wisconsin and Illinois:
Federal law pre-empts the prosecution of illegal transportation via 18 U.S.C. §?926A which provides:
“Notwithstanding any other provision of any law or any rule or regulation of a State or any political subdivision thereof, any person who is not otherwise prohibited by this chapter from transporting, shipping, or receiving a firearm shall be entitled to transport a firearm for any lawful purpose from any place where he may lawfully possess and carry such firearm to any other place where he may lawfully possess and carry such firearm if, during such transportation the firearm is unloaded, and neither the firearm nor any ammunition being transported is readily accessible or is directly accessible from the passenger compartment of such transporting vehicle: Provided, That in the case of a vehicle without a compartment separate from the driver’s compartment the firearm or ammunition shall be contained in a locked container other than the glove compartment or console.”
Any number of state statutes in Wisconsin or Illinois may govern the illegal importation or exportation of firearms where the “peaceable journey” exemption of 18 U.S.C. § 926A does not preempt. Rittenhouse is in jeopardy here if his age is reported correctly as he is not legally able to possess the AR platform he possessed in Kenosha in either Wisconsin or Illinois.
In general, and Wisconsin is no exception, a “self-defence” defence to homicide (i.e. “justifiable homicide” or “excusable homicide”) or the use of deadly or potentially force requires several elements. Those claiming self defence must:
1. Have the reasonable belief that… 2. …they or another person… 3. …are in imminent… 4. …danger of death or great bodily harm, and… 5. …that the use of deadly force is necessary to prevent said harm.
Key elements of the defence to hone in on are:
Reasonability. Would a reasonable person fear for your life under the circumstances presented?
Imminent. Is the threatened death or great bodily harm about to occur that moment, or at some other time? It has to be literally about to occur.
Wisconsin incorporates these elements in its excusable homicide statute thus:
“A person is privileged to threaten or intentionally use force against another for the purpose of preventing or terminating what the person reasonably believes to be an unlawful interference with his or her person by such other person. The actor may intentionally use only such force or threat thereof as the actor reasonably believes is necessary to prevent or terminate the interference. The actor may not intentionally use force which is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm unless the actor reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself.” (Wisconsin Updated Statutes 2019 § 939.48(1))
Further, many jurisdictions do not permit defendants to use self-defense as an argument if deadly force was used in a confrontation the defendant him or herself precipitated. Wisconsin is one such jurisdiction, terming the restriction “Provocation” providing:
“A person who engages in unlawful conduct of a type likely to provoke others to attack him or her and thereby does provoke an attack is not entitled to claim the privilege of self-defence against such attack, except when the attack which ensues is of a type causing the person engaging in the unlawful conduct to reasonably believe that he or she is in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm. In such a case, the person engaging in the unlawful conduct is privileged to act in self-defence, but the person is not privileged to resort to the use of force intended or likely to cause death to the person’s assailant unless the person reasonably believes he or she has exhausted every other reasonable means to escape from or otherwise avoid death or great bodily harm at the hands of his or her assailant.
The privilege lost by provocation may be regained if the actor in good faith withdraws from the fight and gives adequate notice thereof to his or her assailant.
A person who provokes an attack, whether by lawful or unlawful conduct, with intent to use such an attack as an excuse to cause death or great bodily harm to his or her assailant is not entitled to claim the privilege of self-defence.” (Wisconsin Updated Statutes 2019 § 939.48(2))
Use of Deadly Force By Rittenhouse
Was there a reasonable belief of imminent death or great bodily harm?
Did Rittenhouse provoke the aggressors? In both episodes, Rittenhouse appears to be attempting to retreat. In the first, he is shown on video being chased, and having something thrown at him. In the second episode, they are clearly chasing him, and attacking him. One attacker had a skateboard, and another had a pistol. Moreover, he appears to be using every effort at escaping, i.e., exhausting his reasonable means to escape, in the second episode.
What about the illegal possession of a firearm? That remains to be seen. Self-defense should still apply, whether or not it utilizes an illegally possessed firearm, which is not a requirement of the basic self-defense analysis. Then again, I’m not a Wisconsin lawyer, so…….
LIVE AT NOON TODAY. Watch here, on Youtube Live, or an Facebook Live.
I haven’t yet begun to fight, is the theme of the week. Many fights are ongoing, and many are waiting on deck. In this video, I give an end-of-the-week update to many of the civil rights cases we’re currently fighting, as well as some of the current real civil rights issues, in my opinion, of course. Some of the thecivilrightslawyer.com blog posts from this week, in case you missed them:
ETA: during the live cast I mentioned my hemp-law-guru who told me about the MD marijuana case. I should have mentioned, that’s Jennifer Mason, Esq. She’s the go-to person for up-to-date hemp law around the country.
As the attorney for the pending lawsuit against the West Virginia Governor which challenges his executive actions in response to COVID-19, people have asked for my reaction to today’s new mandatory requirement that the peasants of West Virginia are now required to wear masks in public and private buildings.
So it requires masks to be worn in any building outside one’s home, whether publicly or privately owned, unless you’re under the age of 9, have some medical reason which excepts you, or if you’re eating food, or drinking a beverage, or if you are able to “socially distance.” It even seems to allow a Halloween mask to qualify as appropriate under the order. I’m sure he’ll cancel Halloween, so that might be one diamond in a sea of rough (that we can at least use the masks – not that he’ll rob us of Halloween, even though we never needed his permission any of the past Halloweens). It seems to be a situation where the exception is swallowing most of the rule. How do you even enforce such a mandate without definitions of the terms?
I’d love to sue over this, but I highly doubt anyone gets arrested. As such, our currently pending lawsuit probably sufficiently covers this. Even though it’s not an exciting argument, it’s a very clear and simple violation of our State Constitution. We have a tri-cameral form of Republican government. The legislature enacts laws. The governor signs, or vetoes, the laws they enact, and the judicial branch reviews both of their actions to keep them within the confines of the Constitution.
Here, the Governor has unilaterally enacted a new law. You can’t go in a store or any structure other than your own home, unless you’re wearing a mask – even if the mask is useless and pointless. In the end, what’s going to happen here? What’s the point? The Governor gets to do his mask thing, like some of the other governors, and also create some news, appease the numerous Karens on Facebook, who are absolutely terrified to death over everything. And who is going to bear the brunt of attempting to enforce it? I can almost guarantee the police are not going to do a darned thing here. At least I wouldn’t. It will be small businesses across the State who will be forced to decide what to do with this.
Do I close my store? Do I make someone leave if they’re not wearing a mask? What if they say they have a medical reason not to wear one? Is the liability and hassle even worth it? As a shopper, do I just give up on shopping locally and just go back to ordering online? Hell, you can order entire meals now, delivered in a box. As with the other illegal laws he enacted without the legislature, it’s the small businesses that will suffer. And the cherry on the cupcake is the fact that they’ve had no representation. They can’t complain to their elected representatives, because they’ve been powerless – themselves excluded from the entire process.
But, you ask, why is this such a big deal? Do you complain about wearing a seatbelt in your car? Do you know obey the posted speed limits? Do you not use a child safety restraint in your car? Here’s my answer to that. For instance, W. Va. Code Section 17C-15-46, entitled “Child Passenger Safety Devices Required; Child Safety Seats and Booster Seats, is a part of the huge set of written laws by which we’re all bound here in West Virginia, called the “West Virginia Code.” This is the mountain of rules created by our legislature, and signed by past governors. This is what makes it illegal to not drive a little kid around without a children’s car seat. There are many others, requiring the use of seatbelts, helmets on motorcycles, and so on.
Here is the law itself:
W. Va. Code §17C-15-46 provides that:
Every driver who transports a child under the age of eight years in a passenger automobile, van or pickup truck other than one operated for hire shall, while the motor vehicle is in motion and operated on a street or highway of this state, provide for the protection of the child by properly placing, maintaining and securing the child in a child passenger safety device system meeting applicable federal motor vehicle safety standards: Provided, That if a child is under the age of eight years and at least four feet nine inches tall, a safety belt shall be sufficient to meet the requirements of this section.
Any person who violates any provision of this section is guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction thereof, shall be fined not less than $10 nor more than $20….
So, who decided that child safety seats were necessary, and that children under the age of 8 required one? After all, maybe it should be age 10 and under… or maybe age 7….. The answer is, your elected representatives in the legislature. That’s who. Our legislators are supposed to debate things, right? And then vote on it. Contrast the child safety seat law with today’s new mask law: ages 10 and over have to wear one. Because, safety.
I’m not seeing the difference. The State Constitution provides that the Governor can call the legislature into session if he thinks some new immediate legislation needs to be considered. Our State legislature has not met one time, nor considered one fact or piece of legislation, since the whole COVID crisis began. The Governor has had months and months to do so. But he hasn’t. Why? Because what King in history has ever given up power unnecessarily?
Whatever happened to “The Comeback.” We were “West Virginia Strong” (which he stole from the 2016 flood relief response) and also at some point heading down some confusing and nonsensical phase of “The Comeback,” but now we have to wear masks? The last executive order was opening the State to fairs and festivals…. What the heck? As Zoolander would say, “West Virginia Strong? More like West Virginia weak!” Or, “Montani Semper Liberi? More like Montani Semper Servus.”
Is it a coincidence that, of all the days the Governor does this that Time Magazine reports that Governor Justice’s businesses have received millions of dollars of COVID relief packages?
Billionaire West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice’s family companies received at least $6.3 million from a federal rescue package meant to keep small businesses afloat during the coronavirus pandemic, according to data released by the Treasury Department on Monday.
Justice acknowledged last week that his private companies received money from the program but said he did not know specific dollar amounts. A representative for the governor’s family companies did not immediately return an email seeking comment.
This rings a bell for me. I represented at least one casino-business creditor, who had long been owed money for services already performed by the governor’s casino. We sent a letter threatening to sue. The money just happened to finally come in right about the time the PPP loan cash arrived. I’m not saying it’s aliens, but . . . .
So he’s both making the laws all by himself, and also cashing in on the laws he’s making. No wonder he’s not interested in calling the legislature in. Our case challenging his prior executive orders, which were incorporated into this one in the prefatory clauses, remains pending before the West Virginia Supreme Court. We could still win that case, as they haven’t ruled yet.
If you want to review our case, as well as the Governor’s response, here’s the link, though it’s just a few posts down:
I’ve had several people ask me about an update on the Sizemore case, which was a search and seizure case out of Fayette County, West Virginia, involving a multi-jurisdictional drug task force who were found by a federal judge to have included false allegations in a search warrant application. The federal criminal charges were dropped after the evidence seized during the search was suppressed from evidence. Then the case was brought to me for a civil lawsuit. We filed in in September of 2019. We recently settled the case.
In my January 2020 update, I posted a copy of the federal court’s memorandum opinion and order denying the motion to dismiss, and denying the application of qualified immunity, ordering that the case proceed. You’ve been hearing a lot about qualified immunity lately. The order in this case denied qualified immunity to the officers:
As previously explained, Defendant Morris violated Plaintiffs’ Fourth Amendment protections. Thus, the next question is whether the violated right was clearly established at the time of the events in question. “[I]t has long been established that when law enforcement acts in reckless disregard of the truth and makes a false statement or material omission that is necessary to a finding of probable cause, the resulting seizure will be determined to be unreasonable.” Gilliam v. Sealey, 932 F.3d 216, 241 (4th Cir. 2019); see Franks, 438 U.S. at 157.
As the Fourth Circuit has explained, “a reasonable officer cannot believe a warrant is supported by probable cause if the magistrate is misled by statements that the officer knows or should know are false.” Miller, 475 F.3d at 632 (quoting Smith v. Reddy, 101 F.3d 351, 355 (4th Cir.1996)).
Qualified immunity is actually pretty rare in excessive force lawsuits – at least where the plaintiff’s attorney knows what he or she is doing. Ideally, there is a dispute of facts, which requires a trial. But in search in seizure cases, it’s usually less of a factual dispute, and more of a legal dispute. The gist of qualified immunity is that courts give some leeway to police officers, who can’t be expected to automatically know each and every new case that comes out. Some courts expand it, unfortunately, but many don’t.
Here, the court equally applied the Fourth Amendment and justice was served. A police officer should not be allowed to lie in order to obtain a search warrant, even where they believe that the ends justifies the means. Here’s the full order, which was quoted above:
Update on various cases from within the safe confines of our fort headquarters:
Family Court Search Case:
On Monday, Matt Gibson filed a formal complaint with the Judicial Investigation Commission, as well as a written Motion to Disqualify the judge from the video. We will let those take their course and see what happens. I’m told that they may have already been involved prior to the complaint. I still haven’t seen any other cases where this has happened anywhere else in the state, nor anywhere else in the country. Right now I’ve been informed of multiple instances of this happening – only in this particular county.
Walker Open Carry Case:
We field Notice of Appeal, and it has now been transferred to the US Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. Soon we will receive a scheduling order and proceed with the briefing process.
Correctional Officer Traffic Stop Case:
The officer from the video, who was more specifically a parole officer for the WV Division of Corrections has since resigned. I’m told there’s a pending criminal investigation. I have reached out to the DOC’s counsel and requested negotiations with their insurance adjustor. If they don’t make Shawn a fair settlement offer, we’ll file suit.
Putnam County Search Cases:
Right now we are prepared to proceed on six separate search cases out of Putnam County, all related to the same unit of individuals. Although there was an “internal investigation” which we assisted in, there has been no information provided; no outcome whatsoever. At least one of the officers is still arresting people, according to information I’ve received. So it sounds like nothing has happened. We issued additional FOIA requests, and only one of the cases we’re investigating, so far, has returned any documentation or paperwork whatsoever.
I just uploaded this yesterday afternoon and it’s already over 12k views on Youtube. Probably because most people can relate with having been before a Family Court judge before, whereas they may not be able to automatically relate to someone involved in the criminal justice process.
This is video footage from our client, Matt Gibson, a federal law enforcement officer who had his home searched by a Family Court judge over a year after his divorce was finalized. This just happened on March 4, 2020. I’ve never seen anything like this before, so needless to say, I’m still researching the mountain of issues here.
This isn’t the first viral video showing a West Virginia Family Court judge on a rampage. Remember Chip Watkins in good ‘ole Putnam County? Man that guy was something else.
The Family Court involved in our video is Raleigh County, West Virginia, Judge Louise Goldston. If you know of this happening in other cases, please let me know as I continue to look into this.
UPDATE 3/11/20: Voicemail received by my client from the opposing attorney the evening prior to the hearing, which he himself scheduled. In the recording he says that the Court asked him to call him to convey a settlement offer (which sounds like he’s admitting to an ex parte communication with the judge, meaning without the other party having the opportunity to participate, which is a big no-no) and he demands $5,000.00 to stop the “hearing” which would take place the next day: