By Shawn Stinson
Members of a Judicial Hearing Board will decide the fate of a Hardy County-based judge.
- Carter Williams, a judge of the 22nd Judicial Circuit, is facing disciplinary charges related to several incidents during the last several years. The focus of the hearing centered on a July 2021 incident between a Moorefield police officer and Williams during a traffic stop.
The members of the board are three circuit judges, one magistrate, one family court judge, one mental hygiene commissioner, a juvenile referee, a special commissioner, a special master or former judge or justice and three members of the public. The recommendations from the board members are not expected to be released for several weeks.
“This is one where I wish we had a jury so someone else could make the hard decision, but that’s not the hand we’ve been dealt,” said Michael Lorensen, circuit judge from Berkeley, who presided over the three-day judicial ethics hearing in Martinsburg.
The possible punishment for Williams ranges from an admonishment to a fine or suspension or loss of his law license. The state Supreme Court has the final word in cases like this involving Williams.
Williams is alleged to have verbally accosted Officer Deavonta Johnson during a July 11, 2021, traffic stop. Johnson alleged Williams was driving with a cell phone in his right hand. Johnson’s report states Williams quickly identified himself as “Judge Williams” and asked “in an angry tone why he had been stopped.”
During the interaction between the pair, Williams is alleged to have declined to provide his license, registration and insurance information to Johnson at least two times. At one point during the exchange, Williams stated Johnson “pulled me over for no reason” and to “give me a ticket.” Later in the traffic stop, Johnson discovered Williams’ license had expired several months earlier when he returned to his patrol vehicle.
At some point in the traffic stop, Williams made a phone call to Lt. Melody Burrows of the Moorefield Police Department. Burrows was not on duty at the time of the phone call. Williams is alleged to have referred to Johnson as “your boy” several times during the call. Johnson is African American.
Burrows is alleged to have told Williams she would contact Johnson and tell him to not issue a ticket. Burrows reached Johnson, who was still in his patrol car, requesting him to not write a ticket to Williams. Johnson returned to speak with Williams and attempted to return the registration, license and insurance information. Williams is alleged to have grabbed the items and drove off without waiting for Johnson to release him.
In addition to calling Burrows during the traffic stop, Williams is alleged to have placed phone calls to Stephen Riggleman, chief of the Moorefield Police Department, and Steve Reckart, the former Moorefield police chief. Williams is also alleged to have driven to the home of Carol Zuber, the mayor of Moorefield, to discuss the incident.
During his phone conversation with Reckart, Williams is alleged to have stated Johnson should not be a police officer due to an allegation of wanton endangerment in 2020 in Mineral County. Johnson was off duty at the time of the incident. The wanton endangerment charge was later dismissed without prejudice.
Following the traffic stop and phone calls, Riggleman is alleged to have met with Hardy County Prosecuting Attorney Lucas See to discuss filing a motion to disqualify Williams from hearing any of his department’s cases. Riggleman would later issue a traffic ticket to Williams charging him with improper use of a cell phone and driving without a valid license.
See is alleged to have contacted a former circuit court judge for advice. See was told to gather all the information and submit it to Chief Circuit Judge Charles Carl as well as the Office of Disciplinary Counsel.
When he was informed of these actions, Williams elected to self-report himself on July 15, 2021, to the Office of Disciplinary Counsel.
Williams took the stand during the hearing and admitted to becoming upset with Johnson. He denied he was attempting to leverage his position as a judge against Johnson.
“From Day 1, I said that my conduct on July 11 last year was unbecoming of a judge,” Williams said on the stand. “I said it was disrespectful and rude.”
He added he made “a federal case” of the incident and has “regretted it since and tried to make right on it since.”
Reckart also took the stand regarding the traffic stop. He said Williams discussed some of the criminal cases in his court room from the Moorefield Police Department.
“He was expressing his displeasure in some of the criminal cases that were being brought to his court and advised he had some leeway in some of those cases,” Reckart said during his testimony. “But that he might look at them tighter in the future.”
Zuber echoed Reckart’s comment. She said when Williams visited her following the traffic stop, he informed her “that all of my officers, that I needed to straighten them up.”
In a 24-page formal statement of charges against Williams, members of the West Virginia Judicial Investigation Commission issued 11 charges.
The first charge alleged Williams violated Rules 1.1 (compliance with the law), 1.3 (avoiding abuse of the prestige of judicial office), 2.2 (impartiality and fairness), 2.3 A and B (bias, prejudice and harassment), 2.8 B (decorum, demeanor and communication), 2.10 A (judicial statements on pending/impending cases), 2.16 B (cooperation with disciplinary authorities), 3.1 A, B, C and D (extrajudicial activities in general) of the Code of Judicial Conduct and Rules 8.4 a and d (misconduct) of the Rules of Professional Conduct.
The second charge states Williams is alleged to have violated Rules 1.1, 1.2 (confidence in the judiciary), 1.3, 2.3 A and B, 2.8 B, 3.1 C and Rules 8.4 a and d.
In the third charge, Williams is alleged to have violated Rules 1.1, 1.2, 2.2, 2.3 A and B, 2.8 B, 2.10 A, 3.1 C and Rules 8.4 a and d.
The fourth charge states Williams is alleged to have violated Rules 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 2.2, 2.3 A and B, 2.8 B, 2.10 A, 3.1 A, B, C and D and Rules 8.4 a and d.
The fifth charge also states Williams is alleged to have violated Rules 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 2.2, 2.3 A and B, 2.8 B, 2.10 A, 3.1 A, B, C and D and Rules 8.4 a and d.
The sixth charge states Williams is alleged to have violated Rules 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 2.2, 2.3 A and B, 2.8 B, 2.10 A, 2.16 A (cooperation with disciplinary authorities), 3.1 A, B, C and D and Rules 8.4 a and d.
Williams is also alleged to have violated Rules 1.2, 1.2, 1.3, 2.2, 3.1 C and Rules 8.4 a and d in the seventh charge.
The eighth and 10th charges allege Williams violated Rules 1.1, 1.2 and 3.1 C and Rules 8.4 a and d.
The ninth charge alleges Williams violated Rules 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 2.2, 3.1 C and Rules 8.4 a and d.
The 11th charge states the members of the commission find there is “probable cause to believe that Judge Williams also engaged in a pattern and practice of using his public office for private gain and violating traffic laws. They claim Williams engaged in a pattern and practice of using his public office for gain in charges 1, 2, 4, 7 and 9. In addition, they added Williams engaged in a pattern and practice of violating state traffic laws in charges 1 7, 8, 9 and 10.
The members of the commission also stated they found two aggravating factors. The first was Williams continued to drive his vehicle even though he had been warned his driver’s license had expired. The second was Williams was pulled over by law enforcement officers three times between April and July 2021 in Hardy County.
They also listed two mitigating factors. The first was Williams has not been the subject of any prior discipline and the second was he was cooperative with the investigation.
Williams is a native of Hardy County and received his bachelor’s degree from West Virginia University in 1988 and his law degree three years later from the WVU College of Law. He was elected to the bench in the 22nd Judicial Circuit in May 2016 and was sworn into office in 2017 for an eight-year term.