Well, we did it. Youtube did it. We took down a judge who was violating the Constitution. On March 4, 2020, Family Court Judge Louise Goldston was filmed by my client, Matt Gibson, searching his house as part of a divorce proceeding. A few days later we uploaded the footage to Youtube. Outrage ensued. Disciplinary charges ensued. A federal civil rights lawsuit ensued. An impeachment in the state legislature ensued. Well, she has now resigned, in face of the imminent impeachment.
And as of today, I just discovered this breaking news: two additional West Virginia family court judges have also been charged for their part in conspiring to help Judge Goldston avoid disciplinary prosecution. Here are formal statement of charges for Family Court Judge Stotler and Family Court Judge Rock, just obtained today from the West Virginia Supreme Court:
Here’s the latest information I’ve received on the status of the impeachment proceedings in the West Virginia legislature, seeking to remove Family Court Judge Louise Goldston. Apparently, political pressure is being exerted behind-the-scenes. Additionally, an anonymous letter was sent to eight legislators set to vote on the impeachment. I can confirm that at least two of those legislators received it. I’m told that as of now, the impeachment is proceeding, beginning as early as Monday.
This is the anonymous letter received by multiple state legislators:
At this link you can find the contact information for each of these legislators, as well as all other members of the West Virginia House of Delegates.
Huge news this week. Apparently the West Virginia legislature has initiated impeachment proceedings against the family court judge we sued in federal court. More than that, the basis for the impeachment is actually the judge’s responses to my questions to her during her deposition in the civil lawsuit.
A West Virginia Family Court Judge is the subject of an impeachment resolution to be introduced by the WV House of Delegates on Monday following the commission of a warrantless search which violated, among other things, Constitutional rights of West Virginia citizens….
A March 1, 2021, deposition saw Goldston declare, under oath, “I don’t believe I violated the canons of ethics.”
When asked specifically whether she regretted physically entering Gibson’s home, Goldston responded, “Do I think I did anything wrong? No.”
You may remember the judge who was alleged to have pulled a gun in the courtroom, then denied doing so, then apparently admitted to doing so. The saga has apparently now just ended. For now. You may be asking yourself, which West Virginia judge is this again? Let’s run through a few of the crazy cases of West Virginia judges gone wild real quick, then I’ll tell you what happened. We have to set the context here. Some of these cases are absolutely insane.
There’s the family court judge I filed a lawsuit against for personally performing an illegal search of my client’s house, who was deprived of judicial immunity in the lawsuit. She’s currently appealing to the Fourth Circuit. The Institute for Justice recently announced that they joined the case and published a great video about it. Here’s the last update video I did on that case:
Here’s the IJ’s video on it:
Here’s the excellent brief the IJ filed in that case:
There’s the case of the West Virginia circuit court judge who acted up at a traffic stop. I was the one who first obtained and released that footage on Youtube. That judicial disciplinary case is still ongoing. That judge was recommended for suspension. Here’s my previous video with the footage:
Here’s the decision from the Judicial Hearing Board recommending discipline:
In one hearing, the opinion says, when speaking to a woman who was seeking an order of protection against her then-husband in a domestic violence case, Watkins blamed the woman for “shooting off your fat mouth about what happened,” told her to “Shut up!” and then continued:
“Shut up! You stupid woman. Can’t even act properly. One more word out of you that you aren’t asked a question you’re out of here, and you will be found in direct contempt of court and I will fine you appropriately. So, shut your mouth.You know I hate it when people are just acting out of sheer spite and stupidity.”
Here’s the full video referenced in the article:
There was, probably the worst of all – no definitely the worst of all, as far as my recollection goes – Judge Thornsbury, who was indicted by the feds for official corruption in Mingo County, West Virginia. That one made national headlines.
Judge Thornsbury is charged with conspiring to violate the constitutional rights of a victim identified as “R.W.,” who was the husband of Thornsbury’s secretary. In early 2008, the indictment alleges, Thornsbury began a romantic relationship with his secretary, identified as “K.W.,” which she broke off in June of that year. After K.W. ended the relationship, Thornsbury instructed a co-conspirator to plant illegal drugs underneath R.W.’s pickup truck and then arranged for police to stop R.W. and search for the drugs. The co-conspirator tasked with planting the drugs backed out of the plan at the last minute, thwarting Thornsbury’s scheme.
Thornsbury then tried a different approach, the indictment alleges. R.W. worked at a coal preparation plant, where newly mined coal was processed before shipping. One of the plant’s functions was to remove scrap metal that had fallen into the coal during mining. Thornsbury learned that R.W.’s supervisors had given him permission to salvage scrap items, including drill bits, that were found amid coal at the plant, which were simply discarded if R.W. did not collect them.
Thornsbury secretly instructed a West Virginia state trooper to file a criminal complaint that falsely alleged R.W. was stealing the scrap material from his employer. The trooper resisted, telling Thornsbury that R.W. was allowed to salvage the scrap, but ultimately yielded to Thornsbury’s demands, filing a false criminal complaint that led to R.W.’s arrest for grand larceny in December 2008.
Fast forward to a Charleston Gazette-Mail article from March 13, 2018: “Ex-Mingo judge Thornsbury to be released from prison this week.” That article explained that a federal judge sentenced the former judge to 50 months in prison in June of 2014 after he pled guilty to one count of conspiracy against civil rights. It also explained that the judge’s criminal conduct was only exposed due to the murder of the sheriff in that county, which ended up revealing a criminal scheme involving the judge, the murdered sheriff, the former Mingo Prosecuting Attorney, as well as a former County Commissioner.
But wait, we’re not done just yet. There was the West Virginia judge who bit a guy’s nose…. This was one was a little bit before my time. I was playing high school football at the time this story came out. October 24, 1997, the AP reports, “Feisty Judge Bites Unruly Defendant’s Nose.” This one is actually pretty interesting and probably deserves a video of its own.
Joseph Troisi, a 47-year-old judge on the Pleasants County Circuit Court, could get up to a year in jail and a $500 fine for the alleged attack June 26 against Bill Witten, 29. Troisi still faces federal civil rights charges carrying up to 10 years in prison. Troisi was accused of stepping down from the bench, taking off his robe and confronting Witten after the defendant cursed at the judge while being led out of the courtroom. Afterward, witnesses said, Troisi returned to the bench as if nothing happened.
A report prepared for the state Supreme Court said Troisi, who was first elected to the bench in 1992, had a long-standing inability to control his temper on the bench. In all, Troisi lost his temper 19 times in the past two years, the report said.
A former judge who served five days behind bars for biting a defendant’s nose was ordered back to jail for the rest of his original six-month sentence Wednesday for violating the terms of his probation.
Circuit Judge Arthur Recht ruled that former county judge Joseph Troisi inappropriately confronted and provoked a court official who had testified against him in the nose-biting case.
Troisi admitted on the stand that he called Pleasants County Deputy Circuit Clerk Ward Grose a liar and other epithets in the St. Marys courthouse June 30. But he showed little remorse over the incident.
“I feel it was stupid. I don’t feel it was wrong,″ Troisi said of his behavior.
Troisi resigned from the bench and pleaded no contest to battery charges in October 1997 for biting the nose of a defendant after a contentious bail hearing. He served five days in jail and received one year of probation.
West Virginia lawmakers completed the extraordinary move of impeaching all four state Supreme Court justices Monday night for spending issues, including a suspended justice facing a 23-count federal indictment.
Justice Robin Davis was impeached for $500,000 in office renovations. And lawmakers approved articles against Loughry for spending $363,000 in renovations to his office; having a $42,000 antique desk and computers, all owned by the state, at his home; lying to the House Finance Committee about taking home the desk and a $32,000 suede leather couch; and for his personal use of state vehicles.
Here’s the $32,000 couch. Definitely worth impeachment and prison….
So, of the 5 justices on the West Virginia Supreme Court, Justice Menis Ketchum resigned before impeachment, pled guilty in federal court to one count of wire fraud, and had his license to practice law annulled and was sentenced to three years probation and fined.
Returning back to the judge accused of pulling a gun in the courtroom, here’s the update: Circuit Judge David W. Hummel Jr. submitted his letter of resignation November 23 to Governor Jim Justice.
“I write to advise you that as of the close of business today, I am resigning the position of Circuit Court Judge of the Second Judicial Circuit,” Hummel wrote in the one-paragraph letter, which also was delivered to state Supreme Court Chief Justice John Hutchison. “It has been a terrific honor to serve in this role since January 2009.”
Hummel is the focus of a state Judicial Investigation Commission investigation. Even though the JIC can’t confirm or deny the existence of such a probe, JIC Chief Counsel Teresa Tarr told The Record complaints and investigations are confidential unless the JIC issues formal charges or an admonishment.
Also, Rule 2.2 of the state Rules of Judicial Disciplinary Procedure states, “The resignation of a judge shall not relieve the obligation of the Office of Disciplinary Counsel to investigate a complaint that the judge violated the Code of Judicial Conduct and to fully proceed in accordance with these rules.”
The gun in the courtroom controversy first started when a Texas lawyer, Lauren Varnado, who had been trying a contentious oil and gas case in the oil and gas region of West Virginia – the upper panhandle. She provided allegations to the Daily Beast, who first reported on it. They claimed that the judge initially denied the presence of a gun. Later, video surfaced of the gun. That caused a slight problem with the judge’s denial – or at least the ability to deny the presence of a gun. At the end of the day, the video proves that the judge had the gun out in the courtroom. Here’s my prior video on this one, discussing it in more detail:
Imagine you’re sitting in family court and the judge looks at you and says, what’s your address? I’ll meet you there in 10 minutes, and I’m going to search your house with your ex-wife and my bailiff – a police officer who will arrest you if you don’t let me in. March 4, 2020, that’s what happened to my client. Here’s an update on the current status.
We won on the issue of judicial immunity. Just before the jury trial was set to begin, the defendant judge appealed the case to the Fourth Circuit. Since this matter involves judicial immunity, it’s capable of being appealed prior to trial. Usually a defendant is required to wait until afterwards.
They just filed their brief a couple of days ago. Next it’s our turn to file a response brief, which is due mid-November.
Here’s the federal court opinion denying judicial immunity:
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.
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.
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.
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…..
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….