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.”https://wvmetronews.com/2022/06/14/judge-is-now-a-defendant-over-allegations-that-he-crossed-ethical-lines-after-traffic-stop/
The town’s former police chief testified:
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.”https://wvmetronews.com/2022/06/14/judge-is-now-a-defendant-over-allegations-that-he-crossed-ethical-lines-after-traffic-stop/
The town’s mayor testified:
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.”https://wvmetronews.com/2022/06/14/judge-is-now-a-defendant-over-allegations-that-he-crossed-ethical-lines-after-traffic-stop/
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.”https://wvmetronews.com/2022/06/14/judge-is-now-a-defendant-over-allegations-that-he-crossed-ethical-lines-after-traffic-stop/
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.”https://wvmetronews.com/2022/06/15/judge-testifies-in-his-own-ethics-case-im-sorry-for-this/
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.