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: