UPDATE: Wild WV Judge(s)

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:

Family Court Judge Search Case Now at the Fourth Circuit

Imagine you’re sitting in family court and the judge looks at you and says, what’s your address? I’ll meet you there in 10 minutes, and I’m going to search your house with your ex-wife and my bailiff – a police officer who will arrest you if you don’t let me in. March 4, 2020, that’s what happened to my client. Here’s an update on the current status.

We won on the issue of judicial immunity. Just before the jury trial was set to begin, the defendant judge appealed the case to the Fourth Circuit. Since this matter involves judicial immunity, it’s capable of being appealed prior to trial. Usually a defendant is required to wait until afterwards.

They just filed their brief a couple of days ago. Next it’s our turn to file a response brief, which is due mid-November.

Here’s the federal court opinion denying judicial immunity:

Update: WV Traffic Stop Judge Recommended For Suspension

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. 

WV Judge Pulls Gun in Courtroom – “and Then it Got Weird”

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.”

https://wvrecord.com/stories/628727978-attorney-says-circuit-judge-pointed-gun-at-her-from-bench-during-hearing

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.

https://www.thedailybeast.com/west-virginia-judge-circuit-judge-david-w-hummel-jr-pulled-a-gun-in-the-courtroom-and-then-it-got-weird

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.”

https://wvrecord.com/stories/628727978-attorney-says-circuit-judge-pointed-gun-at-her-from-bench-during-hearing

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.

https://www.thedailybeast.com/west-virginia-judge-circuit-judge-david-w-hummel-jr-pulled-a-gun-in-the-courtroom-and-then-it-got-weird

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.”

https://wvrecord.com/stories/628727978-attorney-says-circuit-judge-pointed-gun-at-her-from-bench-during-hearing

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.”

https://wvrecord.com/stories/628727978-attorney-says-circuit-judge-pointed-gun-at-her-from-bench-during-hearing

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.

https://www.thedailybeast.com/west-virginia-judge-circuit-judge-david-w-hummel-jr-pulled-a-gun-in-the-courtroom-and-then-it-got-weird?

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.