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….
And there’s still more. The most outrageous of the allegations I disclosed in my first video pertained to a state trooper putting a hidden camera in the women’s locker room of the WV State Police Academy, as well as the ensuing destruction of the evidence and coverup. One of the things argued back and forth on the radio between the former head of the state police and the Governor’s office is the claim that there were no victims wanting to press charges. Well that’s not the case, apparently. According to media reports, multiple women who regularly used the female locker room at the West Virginia State Police Academy have filed a notice of intent to sue over allegations a hidden camera was used there. It looks like multiple lawsuits are looming.
Yes this is a huge scandal. Sadly, however, this wouldn’t be the first time for the West Virginia State Police. Have you ever heard of Fred Zain? In 1977, Zain was hired as a chemist at the West Virginia State Police crime laboratory, with the rank of trooper. He was eventually promoted to director of the serology department.
It was later discovered that Zain had gained his job in the serology department by using false credentials. Nobody checked his background. He soon became popular with prosecutors in West Virginia for being able to solve extremely difficult cases. His reputation was such that prosecutors throughout the country wanted to use him as an expert witness.
In 1987, an innocent man named Glen Woodall was convicted of a series of crimes and was sentenced to 335 years in prison. The next year, in 1988, DNA testing was used for the first time in a state prosecution, which proved conclusively that Woodall was innocent. The conviction was reversed. Woodall was released and sued the state for false imprisonment, winning a 1 million dollar settlement.
A criminal investigation into Zain began. A special judge and a panel of lawyers and scientists were appointed to investigate the West Virginia State Police’s serology department. Ultimately, a judge issued a report finding that Zain had engaged in outright misconduct and fraud over a long period of time. According to the report, Zain had misstated evidence, falsified lab results and reported scientifically implausible results that may have resulted in as many as 134 people being wrongfully convicted.
The judge’s report concluded that Zain’s misconduct was so egregious that any testimony offered by Zain should be presumed to be invalid, unreliable and inadmissible. The West Virginia Supreme Court accepted this report, calling Zain’s actions “egregious violations of the right of a defendant to a fair trial” and a “corruption of our legal system.”
After leaving West Virginia, Zain then went to Bexar County, Texas, where his fraud and misconduct may have resulted in as many as 180 wrongful convictions there. Reviews of the cases he was involved with resulted in charges being dismissed and convictions reversed for numerous cases in both West Virginia and Texas. West Virginia alone paid a combined total of $6.5 million to settle wrongful convictions lawsuits.
So, to recap the current scandal: an anonymous whistleblower letter was sent to numerous politicians making serious allegations with sufficient specificity as to give the instant credibility. A local investigative reporter began looking into it and reporting on it. Someone provided me with a copy of that letter. I released the letter and described the substance of the allegations in my first video about this.
Then, all hell broke loose. My first video alleged that the head of the state police had been terminated. That wasn’t true. At least not yet. Then, the state trooper suspected of being the whistleblower gets arrested, the day before he’s scheduled to testify at a grievance hearing where top brass was subpoenaed to be questioned under oath by the whistleblower’s attorney about allegations of corruption and misconduct.
The alleged whistleblower’s attorney then goes on the TV news and calls the arrest retaliation for his client being the alleged whistleblower who wrote the letter that I released. The whistleblower must have friends in high places, because state officials from the Department of Homeland Security then ran with those allegations and searched the state police headquarters, seizing the devices of the top brass at the state police, including the superintendent.
But there’s still more. The Governor has asked the new Interim State Police Superintendent Jack Chambers to look into a case where a man died along Interstate 81 in Berkeley County, West Virginia on February 12 of this year. The theme here is the complete lack of accountability from within. Coverups instead of actual investigation of police misconduct.
Here’s what is alleged to have happened there. A caller reported a man walking along the side of the road appeared to be intoxicated. When officers arrived, the release from State Police claims there was some sort of struggle that resulted in the man becoming unresponsive and officers were unable to resuscitate him.
Brian Abraham, the governor’s chief of staff, said tasers were used multiple times on the man. “It ended up culminating in that individual being subjected to a taser on multiple occasions and ultimately had cardiac arrest or something, but he was unable to be resuscitated on scene.” The body cam footage of this event exists, but has not yet been released. Here’s what the Governor said about it: “I’ve seen the video. The video is very, very concerning.”
There’s so much going on. Let’s go back to the casino incident. One of the allegations to come out in the investigation of the state police leadership is that a senior trooper stole money from a guy in a casino. Then, the Governor’s chief of staff demanded that the head of the state police terminate the guy. Instead, he let him retire first.
The investigative reporter, Kennie Bass, issued a FOIA request and obtained the video footage and report detailing what happened. According to his reporting, at about 11:20 a.m. May 29, 2021, a male patron said he had lost an envelope containing $500. This triggered a review of security cameras. This showed a man in a hat, dark shirt and blue jeans had picked up the envelope.
A further investigation of the video sequence revealed the man and his female companion, identified as his wife, had already left the property. The man was identified as a West Virginia State Police captain. Investigating the matter, a West Virginia Police sergeant contacted the captain and was able to quickly recover the envelope, which was stuffed with $731 in cash. The sergeant contacted the casino about the recovery and had the money back at the gaming facility by 2:22 p.m. A West Virginia State Police receipt recorded the handover of the cash and the money was placed in a safe. On the next day, May 30, 2021, the customer who had reported the missing money was back in the casino by 11 a.m. to claim his property.
The Governor gave a press conference about it and slammed the state police leadership for covering the incident up. “Basically, any way you cut it that money was stolen,” Gov. Jim Justice said at a briefing earlier this week. “And then as far as us doing a quick investigation and getting right on to what we should get onto, we didn’t do that.”
The Governor’s chief of staff strongly suggested to the head of the state police that the two troopers involved in the theft and coverup be thrown under the bus immediately. “My advice was by the time the sun goes down today, those two individuals would not be state troopers anymore,” Brian Abraham, the governor’s chief of staff, said. “I then left the decision-making to him (Jan Cahill – the superintendent) as the agency head.”
Colonel Cahill, who resigned Monday morning as State Police superintendent, ignored Abraham’s advice and allowed the captain to retire with 29 years of service. There was no investigation. The sergeant who recovered the money was cleared by an internal agency investigation under Cahill’s watch. A new probe, however, is focusing on the sergeant’s failure to report the incident up the chain of command.
Then there’s, of all things, the scandal of the hidden camera being placed in the women’s locker room of the West Virginia State Police Academy. The trooper who put the camera in the bathroom supposedly said he was doing so in order to catch some state police employees having an affair. But apparently he recorded a bunch of footage, presumably for his own use. That guy is now dead. So he’s not being brought to justice. But then, three troopers find this footage on a thumb drive, showing the footage from the locker room. What do they do with it? They pull it out of the computer, throw it on the floor and start stomping on it – destroying the evidence.
The now former head of the state police said essentially that it wasn’t a big deal because there were no victims who wanted anything done about it. Well apparently that’s not true. It’s just been reported that multiple victims who were recorded have now hired lawyers and put the state on notice that they intend to sue. So multiple female employees of the West Virginia State Police were recorded by a state trooper, and then the evidence was destroyed by other state troopers. Leadership was aware of all of this, and yet did nothing but engage in a coverup.
Imagine if the Fred Zain mess had just been covered up, instead of being exposed? How many innocent people would still be rotting away in prison, but for the exposure of his misconduct? That’s what’s currently at stake. It’s not just about what we know about already; it’s about what else do we NOT know about? It’s about the integrity of past convictions; the integrity of pending criminal cases; pending civil lawsuits.
I have conversations with people every day where I say essentially, yes I believe you. I do believe you. But I have to be able to prove it. Do you have any video footage? Any audio footage? Unfortunately, I can’t just take your word and run with it. Just by default, the powers-that-be and people in general will take a police officer’s word over yours. We, as a society, have gifted that credibility to them, just by virtue of placing a badge on them. If they’re not worthy; if they’re not credible, they need to go. As quickly as possible. And an example must be made for the others. That is what has not been happening in the West Virginia State Police.
The major point here that the former head of the state police completely missed, is that accountability is everything. You don’t just throw one or two people under a bus when it’s politically expedient to do so. You consistently maintain a high standard of integrity and professionalism. If you don’t do that, the entire system collapses. Then what happens? The feds have to come in like it’s 1866 and start putting people from Washington DC in charge of local law enforcement. That’s where we’re headed I believe, if this isn’t resolved properly.
But also remember: you can’t trust the government in general. We don’t want them cleaning up the mess just for optics, and then continuing on after a certain quota of top brass have been thrown into the volcano. We need complete accountability and a plan for moving forward. Perhaps like the Zain ordeal, there should be a committee of people, including a judge, to sort through this. I’ll continue watching this as it develops and will no doubt provide future updates. So please subscribe if you want to follow along. If you have information, please provide it to me using the submission link.
The biggest police scandal in the country right now is going down in West Virginia – and almost nobody even knows about it. It hasn’t made national news yet. One reporter in West Virginia exposed it and things have escalated. This is another one of those cases where this Youtube channel has inadvertently helped to expose government misconduct. This goes to show what an absolute necessity free speech is to our freedom.
A couple weeks ago I released an anonymous whistleblower letter from a state trooper, making specific allegations against the top leadership. I had no idea this would happen, but apparently that kicked off what is essentially a civil war inside the West Virginia State Police that seems to have been brewing. Since my first video on this with the whistleblower’s allegations, that whistleblower has been arrested. His lawyer is alleging a coverup conspiracy going all the way to the top of the state police.
Now, more breaking news, as of last night it was revealed that the Governor has ordered the seizure of the cell phones and electronic data of almost all the top leadership at the state police. Crazy, crazy stuff. This is big. People should know about this, because the implications are enormous.
On February 17, I posted a video with breaking news about the scandal at the West Virginia State Police, publishing for the first time the salacious details being alleged. I’ll link that video in the description, as well as the link to the letter itself.
Here’s my original video:
The initial version of that video title included the allegation that the head of the state police had been terminated. Within hours of the posting of that video, I was contacted by his attorney and told that he had in fact not been terminated, demanding a correction, which I did. It apparently started to snowball from there. I started getting all sorts of contacts from current and retired law enforcement officers with messages of support, as well as additional information.
Then I started getting additional anonymous letters. I didn’t publish any of those and I don’t intend to at this point. Instead, not really wanting to be within the middle of a law enforcement civil war, I provided those letters to the appropriate authorities. Maybe the time will come that that will happen. One of those letters, however, made reverse accusations against the trooper later disclosed to be the alleged whistleblower, Joey Comer. That was the first time I heard his name; never talked to the guy. He’s not the one who gave me the letter.
But I did start to hear through my contacts that the whistleblower, or whistleblowers – because it seemed to me that it was more than one individual, from the amount of information provided – were worried that retaliation was coming.
Then, sure enough, on February 24, 2023, the leadership at the WVSP issued a press release announcing that the alleged whistleblower, Joseph Comer, a current member of the West Virginia State Police, was arrested and charged with domestic battery and felony strangulation.
Okay, wow. So they arrested the whistleblower. But there’s more….
Then, on the same day, February 24, 2023 the attorney for the alleged whistleblower gives an interview to the media alleging that the arrest was in retaliation because he was the suspected whistleblower. Before we get to the allegations against Comer, let’s look at the timing. He was arrested the day before he was scheduled to testify at a hearing in front of an administrative law judge about “corruption that was going on” within the state police. Comer’s lawyer said that the “top brass” of the state police had been subpoenaed to testify at that hearing, where they had intended to expose their misconduct through evidence in their possession.
So this hearing is set to take place Friday morning. Thursday afternoon at 4:12 p.m., an attorney for the state police filed a motion seeking to prevent the agency’s top staff from having to testify and be subjected to questioning. Then at 11 p.m. Thursday night, the whistleblower received a call from other state troopers telling him they were coming to his home to pick up his gun and his badge because there had been a domestic violence protection order filed against him.
Comer’s lawyer said that the head of the state police had traveled to the vicinity where his client worked as a trooper and told several people that he knew who the whistleblower was, and that he had a hearing on Friday morning, and that he was going to “take care of him.”
The underlying allegations that they arrested the alleged whistleblower on were domestic violence in nature. According to a criminal complaint filed in Ritchie County Magistrate Court, on Dec. 5, in the gravel parking lot of the Sleep Inn in Ellenboro, Comer grabbed a woman around her neck during a scheduled child custody exchange. The woman reported that she had bruises on both sides of her neck. The alleged incident resulted in the strangulation charge, a felony. The second criminal complaint alleges that on Dec. 12, 2022, in the gravel parking lot of the Sleep Inn in Ellenboro, a woman said she was struck in the head with a sippy cup that Comer threw at her during a scheduled child custody exchange. The woman told troopers that the incident left her with a black eye, according to the court documents. The records do not indicate if the woman who reported both alleged incidents is the same person, but sources say the alleged victim, who is also a trooper, shares a child with Comer. One of the anonymous letters I received said something to this effect.
One of the important constitutional issues that the Institute for Justice is currently litigating is the ability to sue the government when they file criminal charges against someone in retaliation for their protected speech. There’s some bad law out there saying that, if probable cause exists, no matter the bad motive, you can’t sue them for First Amendment retaliation. Even if it was.
Here, there’s a similar concern. Certainly the state police didn’t create the allegations whole-cloth. But let’s look at the dates. One of the incidents is alleged to have occurred on December 5; the other on December 12. Yet they didn’t charge him until February 24 – the day before the hearing at which he was set to expose corruption among the state police leadership. Moreover, the alleged victim of those incidents is herself a state trooper. I would agree with Comer’s lawyer, that just doesn’t even pass the laugh test.
I was told that more was coming out. Well, last night it did. Last night a third media report came out and it’s a bombshell. I had been hearing that this was occurring, but now it’s verified. Last week, the main headquarters of the West Virginia State Police was searched by the Department of Homeland Security. That’s the state-level DHS. This was done at the order of the Governor. Here’s the actual order from the Governor, ordering:
Cahill, the head of the state police, was directed by the Governor to grant any and all necessary access to systems or data that was requested.
The media outlet obtained one of those duty logs and posted in their story on their website. They’ve since deleted the screenshot, but I saved it. It’s a duty log entry from Sgt. B.L. Keefer addressing the search and attempted apprehension of Comer when the warrant was issued for his arrest on Feb. 23.
In the duty log entry, Keefer wrote that he was called at home to contact/locate Comer and “relay him to WVSP Parkersburg, under the premise of him being served with a DVP.” Keefer wrote that he spent several hours searching for Comer and learned that “senior staff was attempting to ‘ping’ his cell phone and utilize LPRs in searching for Cpl. Comer’s whereabouts.” The log entry indicated “WVSP senior staffers” had discussed calling out additional manpower.
The sergeant wrote that he had been advised Comer had a hearing the next morning at State Police headquarters, where he could be “easily served at that time, with his legal counsel present.” “Additionally, this sergeant, still under the assumption that his search was still centered around a DVP service, believed that the orders originating at WVSP HQ were definitely overkill based on the very small bit of information he had been previously provided,” Keefer wrote. Despite all of this, Keefer said he continued searching for Comer in very desolate areas of Jackson County, near Comer’s home. Keefer said he was not able to locate Comer but learned the next morning that there were actually felony and misdemeanor warrants issued for his arrest, along with the DVP.
“This sergeant is now strongly questioning the decision by the WVSP senior staff in not informing the sole member they sent to locate Corporal Comer, and not informing this sergeant of the felony and misdemeanor warrants, that were most assuredly in effect at the time of the search,” the entry stated. “This sergeant has since learned that the WVSP senior staff has taken the position that they were afraid that Corporal Comer was a ‘threat’ that needed immediate attention, but failed to inform the very member that they ordered to ‘bring him in.'”
Keefer went on to question why, if Comer was considered a threat, he was not provided with the information as part of officer safety protocols. “If Corporal Comer had truly been a ‘threat,’ and any information had leaked to him from the ‘victim’ or any other person who had information that this sergeant most certainly was not provided, then that placed this officer at an undue risk, and that is inexcusable,” Keefer wrote. Keefer ended the entry by writing, “This sergeant is making this note on the duty log as an abridged history, and record, of this event, as the current WVSP administration efficacy and trustworthiness is called into question.”
So, it sounds like the trooper they sent to arrest the alleged whistleblower, is now himself blowing the whistle, implying that the arrest was political and corrupt and in retaliation against Comer. If this is the case, it appears that the evidence has now been seized. Are they going to find communications between the state police leadership and others about locating and arresting the alleged whistleblower either in retaliation for what he disclosed, or to prevent him from testifying at the hearing the following day? I’d love to read through those text messages and emails. How much do you want to bet there are communications about yours truly? Maybe I’ll get to find out eventually.
One thing people have already asked me: did they need warrants to seize evidence from the senior state police staff? In general, I can answer that. I once had a case where we sued a sheriff for placing a GPS tracker on a deputy’s cruiser without a warrant, and then using that data to indict him on numerous felonies. The result in that case was that the federal court said that since the agency owned the cruiser, and the investigation was technically employment related, that no warrant was needed. I suspect the present situation would fall within those same parameters and therefore no warrant is necessary.
The state Department of Homeland Security is currently investigating the matter and is expected to conclude no later than April. If you have information you want to provide, you can find my contact information at thecivilrightslawyer.com, where I will also post links to the stories I discussed in this video.
This issue is important because the major problem with policing in America, in my opinion, is the lack of accountability. Here in West Virginia, when politicians, or judges, or lawyers get investigated and are found to have engaged in misconduct, that becomes public record. The public can see the reports; the conclusions. Law enforcement? Not so much. They have been able to successfully seal their employment records under the guise of employee privacy. In reality, they are our employees, and we should know about any substantiated misconduct.
In the past couple of days, WCHS has been reporting about an anonymous whistleblower letter from someone within the West Virginia State Police, revealing numerous specific allegations of misconduct, mostly by senior staff at the agency. I just obtained a copy of that letter and it’s unbelievable.
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:
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:
In April of 2020, a 72 year old combat veteran, himself a retired law enforcement officer, was arrested in his barbershop, for refusing to close his business during the lockdown ordered by our Governor. The criminal case is long over. The civil lawsuit that I filed is also over at this point. But the footage is a good reminder about your government.
Government employees will follow orders. Law enforcement will follow orders, constitutional or not. It doesn’t matter whether they have an American flag tattoo and/or sticker on their truck. It doesn’t matter whether they spout off on the inter-webs about patriotism and the Constitution. They’ll follow orders. And never count on the judiciary to hold them accountable.
When Winerd “Les” Jenkins first became a barber, Neil Armstrong hadn’t yet set foot on the moon. For over five decades, Jenkins has made a living with his scissors and razor. For the past decade, he’s worked his craft from a storefront in Inwood, West Virginia. At Les’ Place Traditional Barber Shop, you can get a regular men’s haircut for $16 and a shave for $14—but come prepared to pay the old-fashioned way: in cash.
His insistence on “cash only” isn’t the only thing that’s old-school about Jenkins. He lives with his wife of 52 years on a small farm, where the couple raises rescued animals. He believes in paying his bills on time. He doesn’t use the internet, email, or text messaging. And he’s skeptical that his profession can become illegal overnight merely on the governor’s say-so.
He was ultimately arrested by two deputies from the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office, who transported Mr. Jenkins for incarceration and charged him with “obstructing” an officer.
The prosecuting attorney’s office of that county then aggressively prosecuted Mr. Jenkins for the better part of a year, until the judge finally dismissed the charge in January of 2021, finding that it would be a violation of Mr. Jenkins’s constitutional rights to prosecute him for violating the governor’s executive order. He beat the criminal charge. Here’s an excerpt of the dismissal order:
In the subsequent civil lawsuit, we asserted two separate violations of Mr. Jenkins’ Fourth Amendment rights (unreasonable search and seizure and false arrest), as well as a violation of Mr. Jenkins’ First Amendment rights. Here’s the original complaint:
The point is, here is concrete proof that it matters not whether your local police officer is a nice guy, or patriotic, or whatever. They will follow orders. They are agents of the government. If they don’t do it, they will be replaced with someone who will. But they will do it, I assure you – even if they personally disagree with it. It would be a tragedy to lose the pension and dental plan, of course. Don’t get confused about the difference between an individual’s personality and personal beliefs and their status as an agent of the government. There are countless examples of this, going back to the beginning of our republic. Don’t get caught ignorant.
I want to expand on the legal issues presented in yesterday’s video a little more. Yesterday I posted a video on the issue of warning fellow motorists about a speed trap via flashing the lights on your car. If that is protected speech, and as a result of that protected speech, you get pulled over, harassed, arrested, or so on, at that point you may have not just a Fourth Amendment violation, but also a First Amendment violation. More specifically, the cause of action in federal court is called First Amendment Retaliation. It’s a violation of your First Amendment rights to suffer retaliation as a consequence of exercising your rights. This area of the law can be extremely murky. But it can also be straightforward. Like everything else in federal constitutional law, it’s highly fact-dependent.
This can be illustrated by a case I litigated, which pre-dated my Youtube channel, so you won’t find it there – at least before now. Imagine that a private citizen, riding in his work delivery truck, through the West Virginia countryside, sees a vehicle come barreling around him on a stretch of road with a double yellow line, going into a curve. This is filmed by the citizen with his cell phone. He recognizes the vehicle as that of his state senator. He then posts the video to social media, showing and denouncing the senator’s actions to his social media friends. But the senator has his own social media following, which is exponentially larger. In response to the citizen’s video, that senator with a large social media following goes on a rant against the citizen, calling him names, and also then identifying his place of employment – doxxing him, essentially. But he didn’t stop there.
Large numbers of § 1983 complaints allege free speech retaliation claims. These claims frequently give rise to difficult legal issues and sharply contested factual issues. The majority of these claims are asserted by present and former public employees. First Amendment retaliation claims are also asserted by government contractors, individuals subject to criminal prosecution, prisoners, and landowners, among others.
As a general matter, public officials may not respond to “constitutionally protected activity with conduct or speech that would chill or adversely affect [t]his protected activity.” Balt. Sun Co. v. Ehrlich , 437 F.3d 410, 416 (4th Cir. 2006). That is so “even if the act, when taken for different reasons, would have been proper.” ACLU of Md., Inc. v. Wicomico Cty ., 999 F.2d 780, 785 (4th Cir. 1993).
To succeed on a First Amendment retaliation claim, a plaintiff must show: “(1) [the] speech was protected, (2) the alleged retaliatory action adversely affected [the] protected speech, and (3) a causal relationship [existed] between the protected speech and the retaliation.” Raub v. Campbell , 785 F.3d 876, 885 (4th Cir. 2015).
However, a plaintiff must allege the violation of a federal right by a person acting under color of state law. Public officials can theoretically act both under color of law, as well as a private actor not under color of law. The defendant acts under color of state law if he is “a state actor or ha[s] a sufficiently close relationship with state actors such that . . . [he] is engaged in the state’s actions.” Cox v. Duke Energy Inc., 876 F.3d 625, 632 (4th Cir. 2017). Put simply, the defendant acts under color of state law when he “exercise[s] power possessed by virtue of state law and made possible only because [he] is clothed with the authority of state law.” Davison v. Randall, 912 F.3d 666, 679 (4th Cir. 2019) (internal quotation marks omitted).
“[T]here is no specific formula for defining state action under this standard.” Rather, Courts evaluate “the totality of the circumstances.” Holly v. Scott, 434 F.3d 287, 292 (4th Cir. 2006). “If a defendant’s purportedly private actions are linked to events which rose out of his official status, the nexus between the two can play a role in establishing that he acted under color of state law.” In addition, “[w]here the sole intention of a public official is to suppress speech critical of his conduct of official duties or fitness for public office, his actions are more fairly attributable to the state.”
In my case, this was the big issue. The senator’s lawyers filed a motion to dismiss. The federal court ended up denying that motion to dismiss, ordering the case to proceed. The Court pointed out that the state senator posted his response video on his official campaign Facebook page that he was using to both share information with his constituents, as well as to campaign for Congress. Thus the social media account generating the alleged retaliation was closely connected to official activities.
Using that official account and social media following, the Court concluded that an inference was supported that the state senator was using his official position to pressure my client’s employer to fire him. Moreover, the Court found a causal connection between the response video, as well as the phone call to the employer, and my client being fired. He ordered the case to proceed and a subsequent settlement ensued.
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.
West Virginia Attorney General, Patrick Morrisey, filed a lawsuit last week, along with six other states, in federal court in Georgia, challenging Biden’s mandate on behalf of federal contractors. It asserts procedural deficiencies in the federal swamp process, as well as more important constitutional violations, such as violations of separation of powers and principles of federalism. Here is the full lawsuit:
Today Morrissey is expected to file yet another lawsuit challenging the actual OSHA rule created pursuant to Biden’s executive order. I don’t have a copy of it yet, but as soon as I do, I’ll post it here….