Breaking: Federal Court Denies Judicial Immunity in Family Court Judge Lawsuit

Breaking news today in the federal civil rights lawsuit against Family Court Judge Louise E. Goldston, which alleges constitutional violations for her search of my client’s house in March of 2020…. Just today, the Federal Court issued an order denying the judge’s claim of judicial immunity, ordering that the jury trial is on for Tuesday. As the order acknowledged, the West Virginia Supreme Court already found Judge Goldston’s conduct to be in violation of the law:

Thereafter the Supreme Court of Appeals concluded Judge Goldston exceeded her judicial powers in searching Mr. Gibson’s residence in violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct. See In re Goldston, 246 W. Va. 61, 866 S.E.2d 126. A censure and fine resulted. Id.

The opinion went on to address Judge Goldston’s arguments that she was merely holding a Family Court hearing inside Mr. Gibson’s home, and that she should be immune from liability. The Court pointed out the obvious flaws in her argument, stating:

The crux of Judge Goldston’s argument is that her actions were taken during the course of adjudicating a Family Court dispute. She contends that, assuming she exceeded her authority, her actions were judicial in nature and hence subject to judicial immunity.

As noted, the Court examines the nature of the act and not the actor. The nature of the act was a warrantless search of Mr. Gibson’s residence and a warrantless seizure of his property. The twofold inquiry is (1) whether a search of a residence was an act normally performed by a judge, and (2) the expectations of the parties, namely, whether Mr. Gibson was dealing with Judge Goldston in her judicial capacity. Respecting the first prong, does a judge normally execute a search warrant or personally search a residence? To quote Judge Posner, “[t]o ask the question is pretty much to answer it.” Nelson v. Streeter, 16 F.3d 145, 148 (7th Cir. 1994). While “the issuance of a search warrant is unquestionably a judicial act,” see Burns v. Reed, 500 U.S. 478, 492 (1991), the execution of a search and seizure is not….

Judge Goldston was not engaged in an act normally performed by a judge.

Respecting the second prong, Mr. Gibson doubtless dealt with Judge Goldston in her judicial capacity at the outset of the March 4 contempt hearing. The situation changed markedly, however, once the field trip began. Once Judge Goldston invited herself to the residence, began her warrantless search, and then seized private property, the die was cast. Nevertheless, Judge Goldston notes (1) a bailiff was in attendance, (2) the search was recorded much like a judicial proceeding, and (3) Mr. Gibson and his ex-wife made motions during the process. She asserts all of this demonstrates the parties dealt with her as a judge.

The contentions do not withstand minimal scrutiny. Mr. Gibson’s motion for disqualification arose out of Judge Goldston acting as a witness rather than a judge. Further, the recording of the search — which Judge Goldston attempted to halt — is in no way equivalent factually or legally to an electronically transcribed or recorded judicial proceeding. Judge Goldston recognized as much in her deposition. Judge Goldston has thus failed to demonstrate either of the two required prongs.

Here’s the full memorandum opinion and order:

The Court also ruled that the Raleigh County Commission, i.e., the Raleigh County Sheriff’s Office, is also going to trial on the issue of whether they adopted and maintained a policy of illegal Family Court judicial searches of litigants’ homes, which ultimately led to the search of Mr. Gibson’s home on March 4, 2020. The Court correctly noted that the deposition testimony of the two bailiffs indicates the existence of such a policy:

For instance, according to the record, Bailiff McPeake sought out a Raleigh County supervisor prior to his first home search as a bailiff in Raleigh County Family Court, seeking assurance that he was within department policy prior to doing so. Bailiff McPeake was told by Sergeant Aaron Lilly that he was authorized to participate and that they “do that from time to time.” Even after the March 4, 2020 event, Bailiff McPeake testified that there has been no policy change as to family court judges searching parties’ homes. Bailiff McPeake, who continues to serve as bailiff for Judge Goldston, has not been instructed by his supervisor, Lieutenant Dave Stafford, to refrain from similar conduct in the future.

Additionally, Deputy Stump, who established during his deposition that he was a supervisor for the Raleigh County Commission, testified that he had visited the homes of litigants with Judge Goldston “numerous times.” Deputy Stump explained that the sheriff’s department policy for bailiffs is whatever policy a judge told him — “no questions asked.” He noted that, even after the March 4, 2020 incident, there has been no policy change within the department about bailiffs going to the homes of litigants. Indeed, Deputy Stump asserts that, “if Judge Goldston told me today to go to the house, I’d be the first one there.”

The record gives rise to a genuine issue of material fact respecting whether the Raleigh County Commission had the required municipal policy of allowing officers to participate in home searches with family court judges of the type here challenged.

Shortly after the issuance of the order, Judge Goldston filed a notice of appeal, as well as a motion for stay of the trial, pending her appeal on the denial of judicial immunity. I’m currently researching the legal issues surrounding her attempt to stop the trial and immediately appeal to the Fourth Circuit. I will be filing a formal response with the Court tomorrow morning, and will provide an update on whether the trial is on as soon as a decision is made.

Looks like we’re going to jury trial in the Family Court Judge Case

Update on the Family Court Judge Search Case: It was over two years ago – March 10, 2020 – when I uploaded a video on what was then my fairly new Youtube channel, showing the footage depicting a West Virginia Family Court Judge searching my client’s home. The judge ended up being charged with judicial disciplinary violations, which went all the way to the State Supreme Court, ending in a written censure to the judge, describing the search as serious misconduct, which was not a judicial activity authorized under state law. A federal Section 1983 civil rights lawsuit was filed, which I’ve documented extensively, and which I’ve spent hours upon hours litigating.

Today we had a pretrial conference in federal court and I want to give a quick update on where we stand. It looks like great news to me. It sounds like the Court has given the greenlight to a jury trial beginning on the 19th of this month. The Court has yet to rule on the pending issues surrounding the defendant judge’s assertion of judicial immunity. However, it noted that a ruling would be imminent – likely early next week. This forthcoming opinion will be extremely important in defining the parameters of judicial immunity, as these cases are extremely rare and difficult.

Be on the lookout. There will surely be an update on Tuesday or Wednesday of next week with the details of the Court’s ruling. I believe it’s going to come down to the fact that the State Supreme Court has already spoken on the judge’s conduct in this particular situation. The law of judicial immunity requires the Court to look at the nature of the activity, rather than the job title of the defendant. The State Supreme Court has already issued a final adjudication of the fact that judges in West Virginia do not engage in searches; that searches are an executive law enforcement function, and that the defendant doing so in this particular case is “serious misconduct” and an “egregious” misuse of power.

Lastly, the law enforcement defendants are still in the case, both as individual defendants, as well as in the Monell Claim alleging a 20 year practice and policy of Family Court judicial searches, which according to the deposition testimony of the defendant officers, continues to this day.

Update: Family Court Judge Case Set for Trial in July

Here’s a quick update on the status of the Family Court Judge Search Case federal civil rights lawsuit. As of right now, we’re scheduled for a jury trial beginning on July 19.

Raleigh County Deputies Continue to Enable the Family Court Search Judge in Defiance of the Supreme Court

The Raleigh County Sheriff’s Deputy defendants in the Family Court Judge Search case have requested qualified immunity from the federal court in their motion for summary judgment in the pending civil lawsuit. Unfortunately for them, they can’t claim judicial immunity, as the judge has, even where following orders of a judge. So they’re stuck with qualified immunity. But will they get it? Their depositions have been taken, and frankly, their testimony was quite shocking. Despite the fact that the WV Supreme Court declared in no certain terms that judges do not search homes, and that the March 4, 2020 search of Mr. Gibson’s house was unconstitutional and “serious misconduct,” both the defendant judge, as well as her current and former bailiffs, continue to defy the Supreme Court, even threatening to do it again.

Here’s Raleigh County’s motion, in full. The gist of their argument is that, even if they participated in a civil rights violation, they should be dismissed from liability, because it was a reasonable mistake of law, which is the basic argument for qualified immunity. Moreover, the department itself claims they didn’t have a formal policy which caused, or substantially contributed to, the civil rights violation. As you’ll see below, the arguments of their lawyers don’t match the testimony of the actual officers, who clearly admit to an ongoing policy of illegal judicial searches, and who apparently have no respect for the law whatsoever.

Posted below is our response to Raleigh County’s motion, which highlights the extremely troubling deposition testimony of two of the deputy defendants, Bobby Stump and Jeff McPeake, both current or former bailiffs of the defendant judge. Here’s a couple of highlights describing their deposition testimony:

Defendant Bobby Stump, who arrived shortly after the search and seizure began, testified that he served as Defendant Goldston’s bailiff for approximately ten years, and that during that time, he went with her to the homes of litigants “numerous times.” (Stump at 6:12-14, 19-24; 7:1-4). When asked to estimate the number, Stump stated, “There’s no way I could – over thousands of divorce cases . . . . There’s no way I could give you an accurate number. I mean, I have no idea.” (Stump at 7:19-24; 8:1)….

According to Defendant Stump, the arrest powers were utilized often while serving as Defendant Goldston’s bailiff. Stump testified that he’s arrested “dozens and dozens and dozens of people with Ms. Goldston.” (Stump at 13:22-24; 14:1-5)…. Stump testified that he personally looked for items in the home of a litigant “numerous times,” explaining, “[a]ll the judges sent me out to look for items” and that, “[i]n the middle of a court hearing they would send me out to look for items at a home.” Stump estimated this occurred dozens of times. (Stump 16:4-12)…. In fact, Stump described that he and Judge Goldston knew each other so well, that when they went into the homes of litigants, “she didn’t have to tell me anything . . . she could just give  a look and I would know what to do.” (Stump 51:4-12)….

Defendant Stump remains employed as a police officer with the Raleigh County Sheriff’s Office. He noted that, even after the March 4, 2020 incident, there has been no policy change within the department about bailiffs going to the homes of litigants. Indeed, Stump asserts that, “if Judge Goldston told me today to go to the house, I’d be the first one there.” (Stump 56:1-6). Even after the WVSCA declared that Judge Goldston engaged in an unlawful search of Plaintiff’s residence on March 4, 2020, Defendant Stump boldly declared, “I’ve never had a judge to ask me to come remotely [close] to breaking the law.” When asked whether he would violate the Constitution, if asked to do so by a judge, Stump responded, “I know without a doubt, no judge that I ever worked for would ever ask me to violate the law, so I’ve never been in that predicament and I can safely say I never will.” (Stump 58:19-23).

Even in the context of a criminal case, Defendant Stump testified that he would perform a warrantless search of a defendant’s home, if asked to do so by a judge, despite his decades of knowledge and experience with the search warrant requirement under the Fourth Amendment. This same blind allegiance, or ignorance, is what guided Stump on March 4, 2020. (Stump 60:2-21). McPeake likewise subjectively believes that a warrant is not required in order to perform a search of a litigant’s home, at the direction of a family court judge, based on the fact that the judge is personally present and directing their conduct. (McPeake 22:18-24; 23:1-4; 24:5-14, 22-24; 25:1-3).

The judge’s current bailiff, Jeff McPeake, likewise testified that he was specifically told that he was allowed to participate in home searches with judges, and that there has been no policy change since then – even after the WV Supreme Court formally censured the judge for the behavior, calling it “serious misconduct,” unconstitutional, and an “egregious abuse of process” which violated the privacy and sanctity of the victim’s home.

McPeake testified that he believed the search was authorized under department policy due to a conversation with a supervisor, Sergeant Lilly, who told him that it was fine to do so, because “we do do that from time to time.” Thereafter, no supervisor ever told McPeake not to do so. Moreover, as of the date of his deposition, he wasn’t aware of any written policy changes pertaining to bailiffs or deputies going to the home of a litigant with a judge. Nor have any of his supervisors proactively told him not to engage in similar conduct in the future, even though they’re aware that he continues to serve as a bailiff for Judge Goldston. Nevertheless, McPeake noted that his own common sense tells him he shouldn’t do it again. (McPeake 13:10-13; 40:11-24; 64:2-23; 65:9-17). It appeared to McPeake, after getting express authorization from a supervisor to participate in his first home search with a family court judge, that it seemed to be something that occurred on a regular basis. (McPeake 13:7-13; 15:3-8).

Thus, the sheriff’s department authorized the home search practice by judges, and apparently continues to authorize the unconstitutional practice, in total disregard of West Virginia law, not to mention the U.S. Constitution. If only the voters of Raleigh County had some way of holding their government officials accountable…..

Here are the deposition transcripts for both deputies:

Update on the Family Court Judge Search Case – Motion for Summary Judgment Filed

Today we filed a motion for summary judgment in the federal civil rights lawsuit against Family Court Judge Louise Goldston, arguing that she should be denied judicial immunity, as well as foreclosed from even arguing at trial that her actions didn’t violate the Constitution. In other words, the jury trial in her case should be limited to the issue of damages only. It’s unusual for the plaintiff in a lawsuit to file such a motion, but in this case, not only were her actions caught on video, but also already declared by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals to have been unlawful and unethical.

On March 1, 2022, I finally had the opportunity to take Defendant Goldston’s deposition, which marked the 4th time she has testified under oath about the matter, by my count. The first several times she testified in her judicial disciplinary proceedings, when she was still facing possible suspension by the Supreme Court, she admitted that she made mistakes and acted unlawfully, and that she had violated multiple canons of judicial ethics. During her deposition however, with threat of suspension behind her, she was completely defiant, testifying that she is essentially above the law; that she doesn’t believe she did anything wrong; that the Supreme Court was wrong; that the disciplinary authorities engaged in a conspiracy against her; that she doesn’t regret threatening to arrest Mr. Gibson; and that she might even “do it again.” You really have to read it to believe it, which is why I’ve also attached the transcript of her deposition, below….

Update on the Family Court Judge Search Case Litigation

Recently the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals censured and fined West Virginia Family Court Judge Louise Goldston for searching the home of my client. That put an end to the judicial disciplinary proceedings over that issue. However, the federal civil rights lawsuit remains pending. Prior to the state supreme court opinion being released, Judge Goldston had filed a motion to dismiss in that case, asserting absolute judicial immunity, and we had filed our response brief, arguing essentially that judicial immunity did not apply because searching my client’s residence was not a “judicial act.”

On December 3, 2021, the federal court, sua sponte (on its own without request by a party), entered an order directing both my client and the defendant judge to file a supplemental brief opining whether the state supreme court opinion had an effect on the outcome of the federal court’s ruling, which has yet to come, those supplemental briefs being due this past Friday. Here’s the order:

Both parties filed responses on Friday afternoon, which will be posted below, in their entirety. What I think the Court was hopefully getting at, which we argued in our supplemental brief, is that the West Virginia Supreme Court opinion very well may be entirely dispositive of the main issues in the pending federal case. Why? Because Judge Goldston was the defendant in that underlying state case and had a full and fair opportunity at litigating all issues in that case. A federal court cannot thereafter rule differently. This would violate the Constitution, as we pointed out in our supplemental brief.

The West Virginia Supreme Court held conclusively that Judge Goldston was not performing a judicial act when she searched my client’s home on March 4, 2020, but rather was acting in a law enforcement executive capacity. The issue of whether the conduct complained of was a “judicial” act in nature is one of the requisites to get past absolute judicial immunity. Therefore, a federal court cannot subsequently issue a different ruling on the same issue against the same defendant. Moreover, the state supreme court also concluded under an even higher burden than a civil lawsuit requires (clear and convincing evidence) that Judge Goldston violated both the federal and state constitutions when she invaded the sanctity of my client’s home on that day. This arguably disposes of much of the civil case, by itself, assuming judicial immunity does not apply.

These are interesting and unusual issues. Thus, please feel free to read the supplemental brief I prepared. You can compare and contrast her response and reach your own conclusion. I’ll definitely provide an update once we receive the federal court’s ruling on this.

Here’s the underlying West Virginia Supreme Court opinion.

WV Supreme Court Censures Family Court Judge Goldston for Illegal Search

Just a few minutes ago, the West Virginia Supreme Court issued their opinion in the Family Court Judge search case, censuring Judge Louise Goldston for performing an illegal search at the home of a litigant – my client, Matt Gibson. Though the Court elected not to raise the recommended fine of $1,000, the Court declined to opt for the less-serious written “reprimand.” Thankfully, the Court dismissed the Family Court Judicial Association’s arguments that Family Court judge have the power to engage in home searches disguised as “home views”:

We begin with a threshold question: Did Judge Goldston view the ex-husband’s home, or did she search it? We find that she searched it. A “view” is “the act or proceeding by which a tribunal goes to observe an object that cannot be produced in court because it is immovable or inconvenient to remove….”

We agree that the ex-husband’s home was “immovable” and certainly “inconvenient” to produce in court. View, BLACK’S LAW DICTIONARY (11th ed. 2019). However, Judge Goldston did not go to the property to observe the ex-husband’s house; she went there to locate and seize certain of its contents—pictures, DVDs, and other items of personal property. These items of personal property were not “immovable or inconvenient to remove” from the home. Ibid. In fact, the ex-wife removed many of these items during the so-called “view.” Accordingly, we find that Judge Goldston’s actions at the residence were not a view.

On the contrary, the record is clear that Judge Goldston went to the property to locate things, not simply to observe them. Her own words support this conclusion. When the ex-husband demanded a list of what she was seeking, she appeared to reply, “[y]ou have a list of everything [unintelligible] attached to the order.” When the ex- husband professed not to “know where some of it’s at[,]” she replied, “Well, we’re gonna find it.”

Looking for things is a “search” by any sensible definition of the term. As the United States Supreme Court stated in Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 16 (1968), “it is nothing less than sheer torture of the English language to suggest that a careful exploration of the outer surfaces of a person’s clothing all over his or her body in an attempt to find weapons is not a ‘search’”.

Searches are an activity of the executive department. State ex rel. Parma Cmty. Gen. Hosp. v. O’Donnell, 2013-Ohio-2923, ¶ 7 (stating that “searches are executive in nature.”). “Indeed, searches are so quintessentially executive in nature that even a judge who participates in one acts ‘not * * * as a judicial officer, but as an adjunct law enforcement officer.’” State ex rel. Hensley v. Nowak, 52 Ohio St. 3d 98, 99, 556 N.E.2d 171, 173 (1990)….

In light of these clear prohibitions, we hold that the West Virginia Constitution forbids a judicial officer to participate in a search because a search is an exercise of executive power. W. Va. Const. art. 5, § 1. Because Judge Goldston plainly engaged in such a search, we find that the so- called “view” was improper.

Report: Family Court Judge Made Improper and False Allegations

We recently obtained a report from the West Virginia Office of Disciplinary Counsel which found that a West Virginia Family Court Judge made improper and false allegations about the judicial disciplinary prosecutors who have been prosecuting a fellow Family Court Judge, Louise Goldston. The report concluded, in part:

It is shocking that a long-standing member of the judiciary bestowed with the honor of being part of the system designed to protect and preserve the integrity of the judicial system would make such baseless accusations designed to solely to impugn the integrity of two members of the West Virginia State Bar. It does not appear that FCJ (Family Court Judge) Stotler conducted any factual investigation into the allegations regarding JDC (Judicial Disciplinary Counsel) before regurgitating the untimely, unsupported allegations made by FCJ (Family Court Judge) Goldston and sending an ex parte communication, written on his official court letterhead, to the Supreme Court. Additionally, the Judicial Branch of government has the exclusive authority to regulate the practice of law in the State of West Virginia, but FCJ Stotler’s letter was also sent to members of the Legislature….

The law is not an arena where we vilify civility, curse through preparation, and denigrate skilled, zealous advocacy.

The ODC investigation commenced after a sitting Family Court Judge, Judge Glen R. Stotler, of the 23rd Family Court Circuit (Hampshire, Mineral and Morgan Counties), also a member of the Judicial Hearing Board that heard the Goldston case, sent a March 25, 2021 letter (on his official court letterhead) to the Chief Justice of the WV Supreme Court, making numerous allegations against the judicial prosecutors in regards to their handling of the Goldston case, and ultimately requesting an investigation into their actions, as well as their termination, “or at the least a serious reprimand.” Here’s a partial shot of the three-page letter:

Not only did he send the letter to the Supreme Court, but he sent it to the Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman, the House Judiciary Committee Chairman, the Court’s administrative office, as well as to the President of the Family Court Judicial Association, Deanna R. Rock, another sitting Family Court Judge.

Here’s the ODC investigation report in its entirety, which details the entire ordeal up to that point, including a discussion of some of the sworn statements taken of the judges involved. It also gives a rare behind-the-scenes look at the judicial disciplinary prosecution procedures, which are usually confidential:

Shockingly, on the same day as this ODC report was issued – May 13, 2021 – the Family Court Judicial Association apparently helped Judge Stotler double-down, by essentially turning his letter into a “Resolution” adopted by the entire Family Court Judicial Association, again making allegations against the JDC and calling for their termination. It’s my understanding that this “Resolution” was effectively sent back by the Supreme Court Clerk’s office as inappropriate. They later retained a lawyer and filed an amicus brief in the Goldston case, which is set for oral arguments next month. Here’s the Resolution:

Perhaps they should have waited maybe one more day to issue their Resolution, since unbeknownst to them, apparently, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel on that same day issued this lengthy report revealing Judge Stotler’s allegations as false, outrageous and highly inappropriate. The ODC report documented that the judicial disciplinary prosecutors were falsely accused, and that perhaps the accuser(s) might want to examine their own misconduct:

The former chair of the JIC (Judicial Investigation Commission) stated he could speak to the abilities and character of Respondent Tarr and Respondent Lanham. He stated as attorneys representing the JIC they have exceedingly difficult jobs as they must not only know the judicial canons but act fearlessly in doing those things as required by their jobs as JDC. The former Chair of the JIC stated that FCJ Stotler’s March 2021 letter demonstrates both an ignorance of the system and a willingness to respond to adverse decisions in an irresponsible manner. The former Chair further opined that the reckless letter required FCJ Stotler’s removal from further service on the Judicial Hearing Board.

Now, an entire body of Family Court Judges have made the same false allegations and requests. Numerous sitting Family Court Judges out there have apparently now engaged in what is described in the report as acting in an ignorant and irresponsible manner, and which raises a serious question as to their fitness to serve in a judicial capacity. But who are they, specifically? They’re hiding behind their supposedly private “Association.” The ODC report, if you read through it, mentions the involvement of then-President of the Family Court Judicial Association, Deanna R. Rock. In fact, it mentions that she apparently assisted Judge Stotler in preparing the letter with the false allegations.

Judge Rock, along with another Family Court Judge, also apparently assisted Judge Goldston with her brief, which included the false statements about the judicial prosecutors:

Did it ever seem like a good idea to get involved in a disciplinary prosecution of a fellow judge and attempt to have the prosecutors fired? What are the potential remedies? Judicial disciplinary complaints? Impeachment proceedings? If Judge Stotler isn’t fit to preside over a judicial disciplinary hearing, then is he, or others who joined him, fit to preside over cases involving people’s children and finances? These questions need to be asked, and there may be some news on that front in the near future.

We have several pending FOIA requests pertaining to this, and hopefully will have more information soon. Meanwhile, the federal civil rights lawsuit against Judge Goldston, and others, remains pending. Read more about the background of this case here:

Family Court Judges vs. Judicial Investigation Commission

The saga of the Family Court Judges attempting to sway justice in the case of the Family Court Judge Search Case continues. As I already posted about, I sent a FOIA request to the Family Court Judicial Association to ascertain, among other things, who actually voted to engage in this conduct. Their lawyer responded, as I expected, denying that they are accountable to the public via FOIA:

So this is like saying that any group of government officials can just form their own “voluntary association” and then conduct business pertaining to their official jobs, and even use their government employees, emails, and so on, and yet avoid FOIA accountability. We’ll have to see about that.

Here are some of the recent filings flying back and forth in their efforts at intervening in the pending disciplinary matter involving Judge Goldston:

Here is Judge Goldston’s brief to the Supreme Court in this matter, apparently emboldened by the support of her colleagues, attempting to get out of the discipline she had already agreed to: