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…..
You may recall the West Virginia judge who was featured in traffic stop body cam footage, which resulted in the filing of formal judicial disciplinary charges against him due to his behavior during and after the stop. That judicial disciplinary litigation is apparently ongoing, as it is being contested by the judge. But wait, there’s more…. Believe it or not, the same judge has now had a separate set of formal charges lodged against him by the West Virginia Judicial Investigation Commission. The new Formal Statement of Charges, filed on February 14, 2022, and just released today, contains allegations pertaining to, of all things, the Walmart self checkout process.
To refresh your recollection, the first set of charges were filed on October 25, 2021. After finding out about their existence, I served a FOIA request on the Moorefield Police Department, where the incident occurred, and requested the body cam footage referenced in the charges. I then posted the relevant footage on Youtube, of course, so that the public could see it, which is a necessary component of government accountability. That video, as of this time, has been viewed 270,108 times, has 5.2 thousand likes and 2,452 comments, mostly appearing to be in condemnation and disgust of the judge’s behavior.
The new formal statement of charges alleges that on August 18, 2021, Judge Williams “left the Moorefield Walmart without paying for ten or so items in his shopping cart.” Moorefield Police Chief Stephen Riggleman described the allegations in a police report, where he noted that he arrived at Walmart on September 13, 2021 on an unrelated call and was informed that there was another incident which needed investigating. The chief wrote that the asset protection officer at the store provided him with evidence involving Judge Williams:
[The asset protection associate] provided this officer with a training receipt and still photograph of an individual known to me as Charles “Carter” Williams. This officer then watched video surveillance footage of Williams utilizing a self-check out register where he was observed scanning, bagging and placing the bagged merchandise into his shopping cart.
Williams is then observed pushing his shopping cart out of the store without making any attempts to pay for the items.
Chief Riggleman then wrote in his report that he notified the Hardy County Prosecutor, Lucas See, and reported the incident, given the fact that the suspect was the local circuit court judge, who he noted was already under a judicial disciplinary investigation involving the body-cam incident with the Moorefield police officer. The chief then noted that he decided the best course of action would be to contact Judge Williams and “direct him to pay for the merchandise.” He lamented, however, that this wasn’t the first time:
It should also be noted that approximately one year ago a similar incident occurred with [Judge] Williams at the Moorefield Walmart where he and his wife had pushed out a substantial amount of merchandise without paying. It was determined that neither party realized that the other had not paid for the items.
In fact, as the statement of charges alleges, the shopping buggy pushed out of the Walmart in the earlier incident was “valued at approximately $300.00 and that another individual was with [Judge Williams] when the incident took place.”
Apparently the investigators were aware of the first Walmart mishap, and they asked him about it, during his sworn statement during the body-cam incident investigation. Contrary to evidence later obtained by investigators, the judge sort of laughed it off and said that it was an incident a couple years ago where he forgot to pay for $52.00 worth of goods and that his wife was not present, but that a lady he knew, who worked at Walmart, was present, and that the lady “still works there,” claiming that, “[w]e laugh about it.”
Investigators note in the new statement of charges that the county prosecutor, who initially reported the judge on the body-cam allegations, never disclosed to them that there was actually another Walmart allegation, occurring only three weeks before the judge provided them with a sworn statement about the first Walmart allegation and the body-cam incident allegation. They only found out about the August 18, 2021 Walmart incident after Chief Riggleman disclosed its existence on February 10, 2022.
It also appears that the judge failed to disclose the existence of the second Walmart incident to the appropriate authorities. Paragraphs 19 and 20 from the new charges are redacted, but they do state that the judge “also never disclosed the August 18, 2021 Walmart incident to [somebody]” who is unnamed, claiming that the judge was unaware of the August 18, 2021 allegations until the same day as his February 11, 2022 interview by judicial disciplinary investigators. In other words, nobody advised him that he had failed to pay for the merchandise.
But wait a minute…. The judge apparently claimed during his February 11, 2022 sworn statement that he had no idea that he had left Walmart on August 18, 2021 without paying for merchandise, and only discovered the existence of the allegations on the very day of his questioning by investigators on February 11, 2022. To the contrary however, other local officials say otherwise, for which there appears to be documentation.
Chief Riggleman noted in his September 13, 2021 report that he reviewed video footage of Judge Williams pushing unpaid merchandise in a cart to his vehicle at the Moorefield Walmart, and that he subsequently contacted Judge Williams directly and directed him to pay for the merchandise. Riggleman also wrote in his report that the county prosecutor called him on September 14, 2021 and advised him that he had received a call from Judge Williams advising that he wished to pay for the items; that it was an unintentional mistake. The chief’s report is corroborated by text messages between the judge and the prosecutor, which were obtained by judicial investigators, dated September 16 and 17, 2021 (clearly prior to February 11, 2022):
Judge: If you could get that amount from [the Walmart asset protection associate] tomorrow I’d really appreciate it. Thanks so much.
Prosecutor: Gotcha!! She was supposed to call me yesterday but I guess she forgot. I’ll take care of it first thing in the morning.
Prosecutor: $42.21. Do you want me to stop by your house and get a check?
Judge: I have Covide so I’ll put a check in an envelope on my wall there at my driveway. I’m in a hearing so I probably won’t have it there until around 12:30. If you could take it up there I’d really appreciate it.
Prosecutor: I can do that.
Judge: Ok. It may be in a zip lock bag. I’ll hand sanitize good before I handle any of that. Thanks a lot Lucas.
Prosecutor: No problem!!
The next day, the texts between the judge and the prosecutor continued, even discussing the name of the lady at Walmart. The prosecutor relates that the Walmart asset protection lady wanted to communicate to the judge that she doesn’t want the judge to be “mad at Walmart about it.”
Two sayings come to mind: “where there’s smoke, there’s fire;” and also, “sometimes the cover-up is worse than the crime.” Trial lawyers often leave the the most important question unasked at the end of an important line of questioning. Where the evidence is strong, one need not even ask the ultimate question, because the answer doesn’t matter. It’s obvious. The new statement of charges appears to establish that Judge Williams provided false testimony during his February 11, 2022 sworn statement, claiming to be unaware of the August, 2021 Walmart incident (as being the reason he failed to disclose it to investigators during questioning just three weeks afterwards, on October 6, 2021).
Numerous rules of the West Virginia Code of Judicial Conduct were alleged to have been violated, according to a unanimous vote of the Judicial Investigation Commission, which found probable cause. Judge Williams has been served with the charges and has a right to file responsive pleadings with the West Virginia Supreme Court within 30 days.