In November of last year 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, 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. Here’s that video:
I first exclusively obtained the body cam footage via a FOIA request from that police department. Well, now that judge is facing suspension, according to an order that was issued late last week. As explained in my first video on this, Judge Carter Williams was charged with multiple disciplinary violations. Then, in February of this year, I published yet another video about Judge Williams being in trouble again, over allegations that he kept leaving Walmart without paying for his merchandise. I also published a lengthy blog post about it. Here’s the Walmart video:
Since Judge Williams contested the matter, as he’s entitled to do, on June 14 a contested hearing was held before West Virginia’s Judicial Hearing Board over the course of three days. On September 19, the Judicial Hearing Board held a meeting to discuss the evidence presented, and on September 22, they issued an order finding that numerous judicial ethics rules were violated and recommending specific discipline to the West Virginia Supreme Court. Here’s the order:
The Judicial Hearing Board actually hit the nail pretty much on the head when it wrote in the order:
“There is clear and convincing evidence that the Respondent engaged in conduct that was prejudicial to the administration of justice by being unnecessarily belligerent to the traffic officer, by contacting the traffic officer’s supervisor in a manner suggesting he wanted special treatment and punishment for the traffic officer, by contacting the police chief, former police chief, and mayor in a manner suggesting he wanted special treatment, punishment for the traffic officer, and that his rulings in future cases might be influenced by his traffic stop and the action or inaction taken by police officials in response to his complaints against the officer, and by contacting the prosecuting attorney regarding this same subject matter.”
They recommended that Judge Williams be suspended for a period of one year, with all but three months of that suspension be stayed, pending “supervised probation.” Sounds familiar I’d say. So in effect, a three month suspension, without pay, but the possibility of up to a year with bad behavior. Additionally, they recommended a $5,000 fine, as well as reimbursement of $11,129.06 for costs. So we’ll have to wait to see what the West Virginia Supreme Court does with it. Also, I take it this did not include the Walmart allegations, which are still pending as far as I can tell.
In the early morning hours of October 12, 2021, Corey Jones got up early to work on some property improvements at his home, clearing brush around his acreage. He got out there early because he had to take his kids to school. Since it was still dark out, he used a headlamp. Unbeknownst to him at the time, the horse-owning Karen next door called 911 on him, complaining that she saw a guy in the woods on her neighbor’s property. She did this despite the fact that she had no idea who her neighbor was. Officers from the Pope County, Arkansas, Sherriff’s Department arrive, listen to her explanation, and then trespass onto Corey’s property, confronting him, and then arresting him. Everything that happens here is outrageous. But also instructive. Corey is a subscriber to my channel, and has graciously allowed me to share what happened.
When the officers arrive – this is Sgt. Damon McMillan and Deputy Hayden Saffold, both of the Pope County Sheriff’s Department – the Karen again tells them same story. Of particular importance here is the fact that she clearly does not allege that Corey trespassed onto her property. She’s claiming that she was subjectively scared of someone she saw on someone else’s property, which in fact was the property owner. She admittedly has no idea who owns the property. She makes no allegation of any crime, other than expressing her own fear of nothing.
Now the officer notices Corey on his property. He now becomes the one trespassing, as he confronts Corey. Of course, he’s got to have that ID – like an addict. Does he care that he’s on private property and has no idea who the owner is? Of course not.
Corey ends up being arrested for violation of § 5-54-102. Obstructing governmental operations, which provides that:
(a) A person commits the offense of obstructing governmental operations if the person:
(1) Knowingly obstructs, impairs, or hinders the performance of any governmental function;
The Arkansas courts have defined “governmental function as “any activity which a public servant is legally authorized to undertake on behalf of any governmental unit he serves.”
Thus the Arkansas obstruction statute does not specifically provide a mandatory requirement to provide ID to a police officer. Rather, it criminalizes the providing of a false ID to an officer. However, it does criminalize “obstructing” any activity which a public servant is “legally authorized to undertake…”
Arkansas Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.1 provides that:
A law enforcement officer lawfully present in any place may, in the performance of his duties, stop and detain any person who he reasonably suspects is committing, has committed, or is about to commit (1) a felony, or (2) a misdemeanor involving danger of forcible injury to persons or of appropriation of or damage to property, if such action is reasonably necessary either to obtain or verify the identification of the person or to determine the lawfulness of his conduct….
Thus it appears that the officers in Arkansas may detain individuals if they suspect that individual committed a felony or certain dangerous or damaging misdemeanors. It would be a stretch to even include trespassing into that category – especially where they have no complaint from the owner of the property, and are actually themselves trespassing and confronting the actual property owner.
The footage was very clear that the property owner, who did identify himself as owning the property, expressed that they were not welcome. I really don’t see any basis for the officers having a reasonable suspicion of any crime having been committed here. Nor does it appear that if they had such suspicion of simple trespassing, that their actions would have been justified.
The officers are clearly worried about ending up on Youtube or in the media, as well as the fact that they suspect Corey of being anti-police, which is ironic under the circumstances. A solid case could be made here that what they actually are doing is retaliating against Corey, in violation of his First Amendment rights.
Sadly, part of the story here is what happened afterwards. I’d like to tell you that the charges were dismissed. But apparently Corey ended up being convicted of the obstruction charge. On what basis? I really don’t know. But I do know that the judge who convicted him, I’m told, was Judge Don Bourne of Pope County, Arkansas.
A little over a week ago, our old friends KARK in Little Rock reported that the Arkansas Supreme Court officially suspended Judge Don Bourne without pay for ethical violations, including mistreating litigants in her courtroom and failing to appoint lawyers for criminal defendants. Basically, for running a kangaroo court. I also found this gem, where KARK showed footage of Judge Bourne threatening a defendant with prison rape, among other things. It was only a two week suspension, but thankfully, after his term expires in 2024, he will never again be allowed to serve as a judge in Arkansas. Why even allow him to remain at all?
Hopefully an Arkansas lawyer can swoop in and save the day here. I wish I could help, and I’d be happy to, to the extent that I can. But I’m not an Arkansas lawyer. Perhaps there’s more to the story, I don’t know, but the footage shows what the footage shows. I trust in the footage. And I really feel bad for Corey Jones. He was mistreated by his government – by a couple of tyrant thugs, egged on by a despicable Karen. I’d love to see a civil lawsuit here. Usually, however, you have to win on the underlying criminal charges – which is probably why Officer King George, III is pushing them. He wants to know why anyone would be anti-government or anti-police? Because of swamp creatures like you.
A few weeks ago I posted the video of my clients in McDowell County, West Virginia encountering a similar type of tyranny within the curtilage of their home. The point was, you can’t be on my curtilage without my consent and demand an ID – even if you have reasonable suspicion. Here, however, it looks like we’re not dealing with curtilage, but rather what the courts call “open fields.” Generally, unfortunately, there are no federal Fourth Amendment property protections for open fields. The line between a home’s curtilage and the adjacent open fields can sometimes be a grey area.
However, that doesn’t mean that state trespassing and criminal procedure laws aren’t applicable. I see no Arkansas law that allows police officers to trespass on your private property against your consent and demand your ID to ascertain whether you are trespassing on your own property. Quite the opposite.
Federal Fourth Amendment protections will always apply to the person. Federal law prohibits an investigative detention – i.e., give me your ID or I’ll arrest you – in the absence of reasonable suspicion. The Karen neighbor alleged to crime that was committed. She alleged only her objectively unreasonable and irrational fears. There was no allegation of trespassing. A police officer’s own irrational subjectively unreasonable fear that someone theoretically could be trespassing on a particular property, without more, cannot be valid reasonable suspicion. Especially under these circumstances.
A dozen or so people sent me this media story over the weekend involving a West Virginia judge who has been accused of pulling a gun in his courtroom, mocking the “man purse” of a Texas lawyer’s ex-CIA private security contractor, and otherwise treating her abusively and unfairly. It was first published in the Daily Beast, and also was published in the WV Record on Friday. Now it’s even made the Daily Mail. This involves West Virginia state court Circuit Court Judge David Hummel, in the small town of New Martinsville, in Wetzel County, West Virginia, who presided over a trial regarding gas royalty payments to landowners back in March, being tried by a Texas corporate attorney, Lauren Varnado. She is apparently the source of the allegations. Despite this going viral in the national news, I’m going to point out something to you that I think they may have overlooked. More on that in a minute.
(ETA: For some reason the Youtube version of the video cut-off the end of the video. Here’s the Facebook version, which has my full video: https://fb.watch/emqkmtitvS/ )
Varnado describes a hostile relationship with the judge after asking him to recuse himself based on a conflict of interest involving the judge’s parents receiving gas royalty payments. She also described a hostile relationship with the local community, requiring professional security. I’m pretty sure this has happened before in West Virginia. Angry locals, armed corporate security, and good ‘ole boy judges. Varnado ended up going to the FBI. And apparently, the Daily Beast. I don’t live in this region in West Virginia, so this is the first I’m hearing of the underlying conflict, or these allegations. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard of this judge, and I’m certain that I’ve never appeared before him.
In any event, the Daily Beast reported that Judge Hummel “whipped out his handgun, waved it in the air and left it on the bench with the barrel pointing directly at corporate lawyers who had irritated him.” This is supposed to have occurred on a Saturday, out of the presence of the jury.
At first, Hummel told the Daily Beast that never happened. Then, he told the reporter he kept the gun, a Colt .45, in a secret drawer in his bench. Then, he said he was wearing a holstered gun under his robe during the trial the previous week. But he said it was a long, classic-looking revolver from the Wild West days called a Colt Peacemaker. Then, Hummel told the reporter he did show Varnado a first aid kit.
“But it was casual,” Hummel told the Daily Beast reporter. “I did show her a foiled packet and said this is blood coagulant. We have preparations for active shooter situations.”
The firearm incident from the Saturday hearing occurred after the Texas defense team attempted to remove Judge Hummel from the case over an alleged conflict of interest. According to the Daily Beast article:
[T]he gas company’s lawyers accused the judge of never disclosing that his parents get gas company royalties that may someday pass on to him—sparking questions about a glaring conflict of interest. When the gas company’s lawyers sought to disqualify him, court transcripts show he grew increasingly aggravated at Varnado and her team.
At an April 2021 court hearing in which he was asked about his family’s gas interests, the transcript shows how the judge patronized EQT’s lawyers as he detailed his family tree and dismissed their concerns, ranting about how his cousin “Christy” got mad at him for not recognizing her at a wedding. When the attempt to have higher state courts disqualify him failed, Hummel started the next court hearing in similar fashion.
Varnado claims that the firearm was a constant part of the litigation. I’m not opposed to that in theory. But here’s what she said, specifically:
“The first time I saw Judge Hummel with a firearm was at the Huey pretrial conference at the Wetzel County Courthouse on March 1, 2022,” she said in an affidavit. “At the pretrial conference, Judge Hummel wore a black handgun in a holster on his hip with his judicial robe unzipped.”
During the trial, she said Hummel would walk around the courtroom with his robe unzipped and the firearm visible.
“I asked Judge Hummel during a break in trial about his firearm,” Varnado said in the affidavit. “Judge Hummel confirmed that the gun was a Colt .45 handgun. He wore the gun in a holster without exception throughout the trial.”
Why were guns even being discussed in the first place? Apparently the gas royalty trial involved perceived safety threats to the Texas legal team, who says that they hired ex-CIA officers as professional security. However, the judge didn’t allow the security team into the courtroom. Instead, Judge Hummel is alleged to have stood up, opened his robe, pulled his gun out of the holster on his hep and held it in his right hand, stating “I promise you, I’ll take care of them.” It sounds like the Judge called one of the ex-CIA guys, who was wearing a “man purse,” which he called, “such a sissy-ass contraption.” Judge Hummel then said, “Aren’t me and my guns and security enough?” and said, “My guns are bigger than your security’s guns,” pointing the barrel of his pistol towards the Texas attorneys.
Varnado signed an affidavit stating that, “Judge Hummel then set his gun down on the judicial bench and deliberately rotate the firearm (as it laid on the bench) until the barrel of the gun was pointing directly at me.” She alleges that the handgun remained on the bench, pointed at her, for the duration of the hearing. And then some:
The gun stayed there for the rest of the hearing. When the attorneys were directed to negotiate in a private room, they found the handgun still waiting for them when they returned. When lawyers had to approach the judge, the resting gun remained pointed at their faces.
One thing about this. In the Daily Mail article, they showed a photo of the inside of this particular courtroom. Here it is is. One thing that caught my attention was that it doesn’t necessarily appear that lawyers in the room would be able to see a gun, or the direction in which it was pointing, if it was sitting on the bench directly in front of the judge. Here’s the photo:
Maybe Varnado was referring to a different table, or perhaps the photo is either the wrong courtroom, or misleading as to the angles involved. It’s also possible that they only saw it when they walked into, or out of, the negotiation room. But in any event, she went to the FBI following the hearing.
Varnado says she contacted the FBI’s Pittsburgh office immediately following the hearing. After that phone call, she made a written report to the FBI via email. The next day, she says she had a second phone call with the FBI. On March 16, she met with the FBI in Pittsburgh.
She says she didn’t report the incident to the state Judicial Investigation Commission or any law enforcement in West Virginia because “we were – and still are – afraid.”
Varnado further alleges that the firearms discussion was not included in the certified transcript of the hearing – that she saw Judge Hummel gesturing to the court reported to go on or off the record, whenever he wanted to keep things out of the transcript. This included any discussion of Varnado’s ex-CIA security detail.
“The whole trial was insane,” she told The Record. “Why does a judge need to exert more power over us than he already can? Why would he need a gun in his courtroom?
“He took the Huey case extremely personally for some reason. I still don’t understand why. There was nothing super controversial about it, but he took it very personally.
“And yes, I am from out of state. I know what that means. I don’t really care if he likes me. I just tried to do the best job I could do that I was hired to do. But a courtroom, for a trial attorney, that is your workplace.
“My heart just breaks for the people who have to endure that every day. They don’t have a choice. They’re the real victims. It isn’t about me. If it’s happening to me, way worse things are happening to people who are pro se or indigent.”
The Daily Beast article noted that Judge Hummel is now under investigation, and that some of the judge’s own staff are corroborating the allegation that the judge displayed a gun:
That judge is now under investigation by the state’s judiciary for violating the profession’s code of conduct, according to three witnesses now sharing information with law enforcement and official communications about the investigation reviewed by The Daily Beast. The judge’s own staff has since told an investigator that the judge did, in fact, display his gun openly during an attorneys-only hearing and boasted about having it in his possession, according to two of those witnesses.
The Daily Beast also reported that, although Judge Hummel said there’s no recording of the incident, that a state investigator has acquired a videotape of the interaction. Does this refer to surveillance footage? Was one of the Texas lawyers surreptitiously videoing what was happening? We’ll find out at some point, if the state judicial disciplinary authorities end up charging or publicly admonishing Judge Hummel.
I don’t know what the truth is here. But I do know that one of the reasons I only litigate civil rights violations in federal court, in West Virginia, is because in the state courts you can sometimes deal with what I call the “welcome stranger tax,” which is a good ‘ole boy type biased judge, who treats you unfairly. I personally experienced this in another faraway county in West Virginia, where the local judge refused to let my client out of jail on a Friday, until I drove back to my office 3 hours away, to prepare the order to release him. I asked to use the judge’s computer to prepare a quick order, and he said no, stating that my client should have hired a local attorney, instead of someone from out of town.
I don’t know if that’s the case here, or if this is being blown out of proportion. What I do know is that the judicial investigators have the capability of getting at the truth. They get to take a sworn statement of the judge regarding the allegations. I presume they’ve already done that. They get to subpoena witnesses. And it sounds like they’ve already obtained some statements, as well as some sort of video footage. I should be able to obtain the investigation report at some point with a public records request.
My conclusion here is that I don’t have one yet. I’m not opposed to a judge carrying, or discussing, or even presenting, firearms in a courtroom. But it’s all in the context. Nobody should ever point firearms at anyone – especially not in the context alleged here. Given everything I’ve learned about judges the past couple of years, I wouldn’t take anything off the table, but let’s wait and see what the investigation concludes before jumping the gun.
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.
On June 27, 2022, Judge Darrell Jordan, of Harris County, Texas, was indicted on the misdemeanor state-law charge of Official Oppression for ordering the contempt arrest of journalist Wayne Dolcefino. The arrest of Dolcefino occurred exactly two years earlier, on June 30, 2020, while Judge Jordan was presiding over County Criminal Court at Law No. 16 of Harris County, Texas. Using a pen camera, Dolcefino surreptitiously recorded his arrest. I reached out to him and he gave me permission to show the footage.
Here’s the backstory. Wayne Dolcefino is a veteran former TV journalist who had entered Judge Jordan’s courtroom on June 30, 2020 to question the judge about his lack of action on a serious of public corruption complaints involving Houston Mayor, Sylvester Turner. As can be seen in the video, Judge Jordan initially greeted Dolcefino, but then told him he wouldn’t be answering his questions, and threatened to hold him in contempt if he persisted. When he persists, the judge orders Dolcefino shackled and taken to jail. Jordan subsequently sentenced Dolcefino to 3 days in jail and 180 days probation. After Dolcefino appealed, Judge Jordan added an alcohol monitor and random drug tests as probation conditions.
On November 4, 2020, the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas issued an opinion granting Mr. Dolcefino’s application for writ of habeas corpus, finding that, “After a review of the evidence and arguments, the contempt of court allegation is not supported by the . . . record” and vacating the contempt order under which Mr. Dolcefino was arrested and charged.
Not long before the indictment was issued, the judge was admonished for unrelated misconduct.
On May 13, 2022, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct issued a Public Admonition and Order of Additional Education against Judge Jordan, concluding that Judge Jordan violated several judicial ethics canons, ordering him to obtain 2 hours of instruction with a judicial mentor within 60 days. The admonishment found that Judge Jordan engaged in several unethical behaviors, including:
(1) Summoning several assistant prosecutors into his presence to “communicate to them his displeasure with their failure to treat him with sufficient respect, and to lecture them about criminal contempt penalties that could arise from acts ‘disrespectful of the court.’”
(2) Referring to himself as the “king of his court” and referring to the assistant prosecutors as “hang’ em high prosecutors.”
(3) On at least one occasion, threatening on the record to charge an assistant prosecutor with contempt, for failing to show him proper respect. At least he faces justice now after being indicted for Official Oppression, right? Wrong.
Posted just today on the Dolcefino Consulting website, Wayne announced that the criminal charge was dropped against Judge Jordan. He wrote that, “Democratic Fort Bend County District Attorney Brian Middleton bailed out a fellow Democratic judge just days after he was indicted by a grand jury for official oppression.”
“This misconduct was caught on tape and the dismissal of the indictment is a miscarriage of justice and we’re not going to let the DA off the hook like he did for Judge Jordan,” Wayne said. He’s now asking for public records from the Fort Bend County DA’s office, including emails, phone records and documents related to the investigation and case.
Apparently, the Ford Bend County DA, Brian Middleton, had been appointed to prosecute the case after the Harris County DAs office recused themselves. Then Middleton, on the Friday before the July 4 holiday weekend, quietly dropped the charges. The official reason given was that he didn’t believe enough evidence existed to prove the allegations beyond a reasonable doubt.
There seems to be a pattern of this happening, where prosecutors apparently are unable to convict public officials for misconduct that is captured with video evidence. If only they were that picky about prosecuting the peasants.
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.
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.
A West Virginia Circuit Court Judge was publicly admonished by the Judicial Investigation Commission for ordering the arrest of two correctional officers, who were transporting an inmate appearing before the Court. The two COs were arrested by sheriff’s deputies, for supposedly failing to obey a verbal order to transport an inmate to a different jail. The COs were then strip searched and incarcerated in their correctional officer uniforms. The Commission found probable cause that the Judge violated Rules 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 2.2, 2.5(A) and 2.8(B) of the Code of Judicial Conduct. That includes, “compliance with the law,” ” confidence in the judiciary,” “avoiding abuse of the prestige of judicial office,” “impartiality and fairness,” “competence, diligence and cooperation,” and “decorum [and] demeanor….”
The inmate being transported by the officers had been involved in a physical altercation in jail prior to the transport. Upon seeing the inmates injuries, the judge ordered the two transporting officers to return the inmate to a different jail, rather than the one in which she was already incarcerated. One of the officers responded that he would have to call his supervisor first. The judge then “summarily ordered both of them taken into custody and incarcerated for civil contempt.” He then “ordered the prosecutor to ‘right quickly prepare an Order’ stating that the officers had ‘refused to abide by the court order.'” However, the officers never refused. One officer said nothing. The other never refused, but correctly responded that he would have to call his supervisor, according to state policy.
The officers were escorted from the courtroom, taken into custody and detained. They were required to surrender their weapons to deputies, permitted to call their supervisors and relay a situation report. They were then taken to the county holding facility. While there, the officers were subject to strip searches. Their badges, shoestrings, wallets and watches were confiscated. Following the strip searches, the officers were directed to put their uniforms back on and were told that they were going to be placed in uniform in a cell with six inmates. At some point during all of this, they were also handcuffed….
The Respondent Judge has 14 days after receipt of the public admonishment to file a written objection, in which case formal charges will be filed with the State 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…..