You may remember the judge who was alleged to have pulled a gun in the courtroom, then denied doing so, then apparently admitted to doing so. The saga has apparently now just ended. For now. You may be asking yourself, which West Virginia judge is this again? Let’s run through a few of the crazy cases of West Virginia judges gone wild real quick, then I’ll tell you what happened. We have to set the context here. Some of these cases are absolutely insane.
There’s the family court judge I filed a lawsuit against for personally performing an illegal search of my client’s house, who was deprived of judicial immunity in the lawsuit. She’s currently appealing to the Fourth Circuit. The Institute for Justice recently announced that they joined the case and published a great video about it. Here’s the last update video I did on that case:
Here’s the IJ’s video on it:
Here’s the excellent brief the IJ filed in that case:
There’s the case of the West Virginia circuit court judge who acted up at a traffic stop. I was the one who first obtained and released that footage on Youtube. That judicial disciplinary case is still ongoing. That judge was recommended for suspension. Here’s my previous video with the footage:
Here’s the decision from the Judicial Hearing Board recommending discipline:
The state supreme court has the final say, however, which has yet to be heard.
There was another West Virginia circuit court judge who ordered the arrest of two correctional officers with no legal basis for doing so, which earned him a public reprimand.
Here’s the public admonishment he received:
That, by the way, is the same county as my recent wildlife officer antler heist case, if you were wondering what type of environment that could occur in….
There was the West Virginia family court judge who went on a tirade in his courtroom against a litigant, earning him a suspension. That was Judge Watkins. From the ABA Journal, March 28, 2013: “Judge whose angry rant was caught in YouTube clip is suspended for nearly 4 years.”
In one hearing, the opinion says, when speaking to a woman who was seeking an order of protection against her then-husband in a domestic violence case, Watkins blamed the woman for “shooting off your fat mouth about what happened,” told her to “Shut up!” and then continued:
“Shut up! You stupid woman. Can’t even act properly. One more word out of you that you aren’t asked a question you’re out of here, and you will be found in direct contempt of court and I will fine you appropriately. So, shut your mouth.You know I hate it when people are just acting out of sheer spite and stupidity.”
Here’s the full video referenced in the article:
There was, probably the worst of all – no definitely the worst of all, as far as my recollection goes – Judge Thornsbury, who was indicted by the feds for official corruption in Mingo County, West Virginia. That one made national headlines.
From an FBI press release on August 15, 2013: “West Virginia Circuit Judge Arrested for Framing Romantic Rival, Rigging Grand Jury.”
Judge Thornsbury is charged with conspiring to violate the constitutional rights of a victim identified as “R.W.,” who was the husband of Thornsbury’s secretary. In early 2008, the indictment alleges, Thornsbury began a romantic relationship with his secretary, identified as “K.W.,” which she broke off in June of that year. After K.W. ended the relationship, Thornsbury instructed a co-conspirator to plant illegal drugs underneath R.W.’s pickup truck and then arranged for police to stop R.W. and search for the drugs. The co-conspirator tasked with planting the drugs backed out of the plan at the last minute, thwarting Thornsbury’s scheme.
Thornsbury then tried a different approach, the indictment alleges. R.W. worked at a coal preparation plant, where newly mined coal was processed before shipping. One of the plant’s functions was to remove scrap metal that had fallen into the coal during mining. Thornsbury learned that R.W.’s supervisors had given him permission to salvage scrap items, including drill bits, that were found amid coal at the plant, which were simply discarded if R.W. did not collect them.
Thornsbury secretly instructed a West Virginia state trooper to file a criminal complaint that falsely alleged R.W. was stealing the scrap material from his employer. The trooper resisted, telling Thornsbury that R.W. was allowed to salvage the scrap, but ultimately yielded to Thornsbury’s demands, filing a false criminal complaint that led to R.W.’s arrest for grand larceny in December 2008.
Fast forward to a Charleston Gazette-Mail article from March 13, 2018: “Ex-Mingo judge Thornsbury to be released from prison this week.” That article explained that a federal judge sentenced the former judge to 50 months in prison in June of 2014 after he pled guilty to one count of conspiracy against civil rights. It also explained that the judge’s criminal conduct was only exposed due to the murder of the sheriff in that county, which ended up revealing a criminal scheme involving the judge, the murdered sheriff, the former Mingo Prosecuting Attorney, as well as a former County Commissioner.
But wait, we’re not done just yet. There was the West Virginia judge who bit a guy’s nose…. This was one was a little bit before my time. I was playing high school football at the time this story came out. October 24, 1997, the AP reports, “Feisty Judge Bites Unruly Defendant’s Nose.” This one is actually pretty interesting and probably deserves a video of its own.
Joseph Troisi, a 47-year-old judge on the Pleasants County Circuit Court, could get up to a year in jail and a $500 fine for the alleged attack June 26 against Bill Witten, 29. Troisi still faces federal civil rights charges carrying up to 10 years in prison. Troisi was accused of stepping down from the bench, taking off his robe and confronting Witten after the defendant cursed at the judge while being led out of the courtroom. Afterward, witnesses said, Troisi returned to the bench as if nothing happened.
A report prepared for the state Supreme Court said Troisi, who was first elected to the bench in 1992, had a long-standing inability to control his temper on the bench. In all, Troisi lost his temper 19 times in the past two years, the report said.
Then, July 29, 1998, the AP reported, “Nose-Biting Judge To Return to Jail.”
A former judge who served five days behind bars for biting a defendant’s nose was ordered back to jail for the rest of his original six-month sentence Wednesday for violating the terms of his probation.
Circuit Judge Arthur Recht ruled that former county judge Joseph Troisi inappropriately confronted and provoked a court official who had testified against him in the nose-biting case.
Troisi admitted on the stand that he called Pleasants County Deputy Circuit Clerk Ward Grose a liar and other epithets in the St. Marys courthouse June 30. But he showed little remorse over the incident.
“I feel it was stupid. I don’t feel it was wrong,″ Troisi said of his behavior.
Troisi resigned from the bench and pleaded no contest to battery charges in October 1997 for biting the nose of a defendant after a contentious bail hearing. He served five days in jail and received one year of probation.
I don’t want to say “last” but not least, because this seems to be ongoing, but would you believe me if I told you that not too long ago, basically our entire supreme court was impeached by the legislature? From another AP story, August 14, 2018: “All of West Virginia’s Supreme Court justices impeached over spending.”
West Virginia lawmakers completed the extraordinary move of impeaching all four state Supreme Court justices Monday night for spending issues, including a suspended justice facing a 23-count federal indictment.
Justice Robin Davis was impeached for $500,000 in office renovations. And lawmakers approved articles against Loughry for spending $363,000 in renovations to his office; having a $42,000 antique desk and computers, all owned by the state, at his home; lying to the House Finance Committee about taking home the desk and a $32,000 suede leather couch; and for his personal use of state vehicles.
Here’s the $32,000 couch. Definitely worth impeachment and prison….
The Wikipedia on this explains it well, as far as I can remember:
So, of the 5 justices on the West Virginia Supreme Court, Justice Menis Ketchum resigned before impeachment, pled guilty in federal court to one count of wire fraud, and had his license to practice law annulled and was sentenced to three years probation and fined.
Returning back to the judge accused of pulling a gun in the courtroom, here’s the update: Circuit Judge David W. Hummel Jr. submitted his letter of resignation November 23 to Governor Jim Justice.
“I write to advise you that as of the close of business today, I am resigning the position of Circuit Court Judge of the Second Judicial Circuit,” Hummel wrote in the one-paragraph letter, which also was delivered to state Supreme Court Chief Justice John Hutchison. “It has been a terrific honor to serve in this role since January 2009.”
That’s it. No reason given. The reason is obvious though. According to the West Virginia Record:
Hummel is the focus of a state Judicial Investigation Commission investigation. Even though the JIC can’t confirm or deny the existence of such a probe, JIC Chief Counsel Teresa Tarr told The Record complaints and investigations are confidential unless the JIC issues formal charges or an admonishment.
Also, Rule 2.2 of the state Rules of Judicial Disciplinary Procedure states, “The resignation of a judge shall not relieve the obligation of the Office of Disciplinary Counsel to investigate a complaint that the judge violated the Code of Judicial Conduct and to fully proceed in accordance with these rules.”
The gun in the courtroom controversy first started when a Texas lawyer, Lauren Varnado, who had been trying a contentious oil and gas case in the oil and gas region of West Virginia – the upper panhandle. She provided allegations to the Daily Beast, who first reported on it. They claimed that the judge initially denied the presence of a gun. Later, video surfaced of the gun. That caused a slight problem with the judge’s denial – or at least the ability to deny the presence of a gun. At the end of the day, the video proves that the judge had the gun out in the courtroom. Here’s my prior video on this one, discussing it in more detail: