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Judge Carter Williams will have the chance to defend himself early next year against misconduct charges leveled against him from a summer evening traffic stop.
His case goes before the Judicial Hearing Board at 9:30 a.m. Feb. 23 at Martinsburg’s Berkeley County Judicial Center.
Williams could be suspended without pay and even lose his law license.
What the 1st-term judge has to say on his behalf should be known by the end of this month. He has 30 days to respond to the 24-page formal statement of charges that the Judicial Investigation Commission filed with the State Supreme Court on Oct. 22.
On Feb. 23, he will face a 9-member board that consists of 3 circuit judges, a senior status judge, a family court judge, a magistrate and 3 public members, all appointed by the State Supreme Court.
The appointed family court judge is Glen Stotler, who has recused himself because he serves in Hampshire County alongside Williams.
Stotler’s 23rd Family Court district includes Hampshire, Mineral and Morgan counties. The 22nd Judicial Circuit that Williams serves along with Charles Carl includes Hampshire, Hardy and Pendleton counties.
The Judicial Hearing Board, the Judicial Investigation Commission and the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, which will present the case against Williams on Feb. 23, are separate parts of the State Supreme Court’s oversight of judicial and legal affairs in West Virginia.
The hearing board will decide findings of fact and interpret the law, but at the end of the day it can only make recommendations to the State Supreme Court on disciplinary action if it upholds any of the charges.
The consequences Williams faces for judicial misconduct include admonishment, public reprimand or censure, fines or unpaid suspension for up to a year on each violation of the code.
In addition, the 10 charges include alleged violations of professional conduct. Those carry separate penalties that can include suspension of Williams’ law license for up to 5 years.
The outcome won’t be known on Feb. 23. The hearing board has 60 days to make its recommendations, then the parties have 30 days to file objections.
If Williams or the Office of Disciplinary Counsel objects or if the Supreme Court doesn’t agree with the recommendations, then a hearing before the full court will be scheduled.
Williams was stopped when Moorefield Police Officer Deavonta Johnson saw him with a cellphone in his hand behind the wheel on July 11.
Williams, as recorded on Johnson’s bodycam, reacted badly and identified himself as a judge right from the start.
The 55-year-old judge called Johnson’s supervisor during the stop and, over the course of the evening, called the supervisor a 2nd time, called Moorefield’s police chief at home, called the former police chief and stopped by the mayor’s house.
He repeatedly referred to Johnson, who is African-American, as “your boy” to the policeman’s supervisors.
The stop revealed that Williams was driving on an expired license.
Over the next few days, Hardy County Prosecutor Isaac See became involved along with Carl, the 22nd Circuit’s chief judge, and retired judge Donald Cookman.
When Williams was told that the case was being referred to the Judicial Investigation Board, he said he wanted the opportunity to report himself to the board, which he did on July 15, the same day the Judicial Disciplinary Committee filed an ethics complaint against him.
Around that time, Moorefield Police Chief Stephen Riggleman prepared a ticket charging Williams with improper use of a cellphone and driving without a valid license.
Williams negotiated a plea deal with See to plead no contest to the license charge. In exchange, the cellphone charge was dismissed without prejudice, meaning the charge could be refiled. Williams was fined $30 and court costs.
The Judicial Investigation Commission filed a report July 30 seeking Williams’ suspension without pay pending the outcome of the disciplinary matter.
The Supreme Court deferred ruling on the suspension without pay in an Aug. 3 order.
The court said Williams is prohibited from hearing any matter involving the Moorefield Police Department or it officers until the complaints are settled. The Aug. 3 order noted that Williams agreed to no longer preside over criminal cases in Hardy County.
He switched assignments with Carl, taking on criminal cases in Hampshire County and civil cases in Hardy. Carl now hears civil cases in Hampshire and criminal cases in Hardy.
On Sept. 30, the State Supreme Court issued an order finding probable cause and ordered the matter remanded to the Judicial Investigation Commission. That order led to the formal statement of charges filed Oct. 22.
The investigation uncovered 5 other traffic brushes Williams had with either Moorefield police or West Virginia State Police between 2019 and mid-2021. They included not wearing a seatbelt and expired car tags.