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

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

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

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

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

Update: WV Judge in Traffic Stop Video: Trial Just Ended

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.”

https://wvmetronews.com/2022/06/14/judge-is-now-a-defendant-over-allegations-that-he-crossed-ethical-lines-after-traffic-stop/

The town’s former police chief testified:

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.”

https://wvmetronews.com/2022/06/14/judge-is-now-a-defendant-over-allegations-that-he-crossed-ethical-lines-after-traffic-stop/

The town’s mayor testified:

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.”

https://wvmetronews.com/2022/06/14/judge-is-now-a-defendant-over-allegations-that-he-crossed-ethical-lines-after-traffic-stop/

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.”

https://wvmetronews.com/2022/06/14/judge-is-now-a-defendant-over-allegations-that-he-crossed-ethical-lines-after-traffic-stop/

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.”

https://wvmetronews.com/2022/06/15/judge-testifies-in-his-own-ethics-case-im-sorry-for-this/

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.

Update: Family Court Judge Case Set for Trial in July

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are the deposition transcripts for both deputies:

Update on the Family Court Judge Search Case Litigation

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the underlying West Virginia Supreme Court opinion.