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Circuit judge charged with verbally attacking officer after traffic stop, abusing his power

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Judge C. Carter Williams

Judge C. Carter Williams

CHARLESTON – A Hardy County circuit judge has been charged with violating the rules of judicial conduct after he verbally accosted a Moorefield police officer who had pulled him over for allegedly using his cell phone while driving and abusing his power.

According to the formal statement of charges filed October 25 by the state Judicial Investigation Commission, Hardy Circuit Judge C. Carter Williams was pulled over July 11 by an Officer Johnson. The officer said Williams was holding a cell phone in his right hand near the steering wheel while driving. Williams says he had just retrieved his cell phone from under his seat after dropping it, but Johnson says Williams was talking on the phone.

“Respondent immediately identified himself as ‘Judge Williams,’” the filing states. “From the outset, respondent acted in a manner unbecoming a judicial officer.

“Judge Williams asked in an angry tone why he had been stopped. Officer Johnson explained it was because respondent had a cell phone in his hand. Judge Williams stated that he lost his cell phone and had just pulled it up from under the seat when he was stopped.”

Johnson then asked Williams why he was yelling and twice asked to see Williams’ license, registration and insurance.

“Respondent said he did nothing wrong,” the filing states, noting Johnson asked a third time for Williams’ information. “I’m not going to give you my license and registration.”

Williams later acknowledged Johnson had reasonable suspicion to pull him over.

“And you all aren’t ever on yours?” Williams asked Johnson. “I drive by a lot of times and you all are on yours. You’re never on yours, right? … Let me tell you something, you all are on yours.”

Williams finally gave Johnson his license, registration and insurance, still “irritated” that he was pulled over “for no reason.” He also told the officer to give him a ticket so he could take it to municipal court and go to trial.

“Its ridiculous what you’re doing,” Williams told Johnson. “It’s ridiculous.”

Johnson asked Williams what was ridiculous.

“’Cause you all have yours in your hands,” he replied. “I’ve seen it many times. You all have yours and you don’t get pulled over. Don’t tell me it’s on official business. I hear your cases every day in court. … Give me a ticket. I am really irritated about this whole … give me a ticket.

“You just pulled me over for no reason. Pulled me over for no reason. Give me a ticket.”

Johnson then discovered Williams’ license had expired about three months prior on his 55th birthday.

Meanwhile, Williams called off-duty Moorefield Police Lt. Melody Burrows.

“Your boy pulled me over for being on my cell phone and I wasn’t on my cell phone!” he told Burrows before detailing his side of the story.

Burrows testified that she believed Williams called to stop the issuance of the ticket. Burrows did tell Johnson not to issue Williams a ticket. She also testified that Williams called Johnson, who is Black, “your boy” repeatedly during the call.

Johnson returned to Williams’ car and told him he wasn’t giving him a ticket.

“You can write me a ticket or not,” Williams said. “I don’t care. I’ll take it up to town and we’ll go to trial, buddy. That’s fine with me, and I’ll tell you what. The next time I see any of you on the phone I am stopping you right there and calling the State Police. Any of you. … I’ve seen this crap enough, and I’m tired of it.”

Williams then grabbed his license, registration and insurance out of Johnson’s hand before leaving without waiting for Johnson to release him.

Later that evening, Williams called Moorefield Police Chief Stephen Riggleman on his cell phone, again saying he had “just had words with one of your boys” before telling his version of the story. He also told the chief he was tired of being disrespected, that he planned to call the State Police if he say officers on their phones and that he could call the chief anytime he wanted. Riggleman told Williams not to call when he was home with his family before Williams hung up on the chief.

Also that evening, Williams called former Moorefield Police Chief Steve Reckart at home. The judge was critical of the Moorefield Police Department and Johnson. He also hinted that he might treat future cases involving the department differently.

Williams then called Burrows again, saying he was “sick and tired of Moorefield PD running around like a bunch of thugs, harassing innocent, hard-working people” and questioning whether “my boy” should even have a job in light of a May 2020 felony charge of wanton endangerment that later was dismissed without prejudice.

Williams also called fellow Circuit Judge Charles Carl that evening. Carl testified that Williams was “really intent on proving himself right.”

At 10 p.m. that evening, Williams visited Moorefield Mayor Carol Zuber’s home. During the 45-minute conversation, Williams said he wanted to file a complaint against Johnson and complained about the Moorefield PD and Johnson. He told her Johnson had pulled him over previously for running a stop sign but did not issue a ticket then either.

When the mayor said she’d look at Johnson’s body cam video the next day, Williams hung his head and disclosed that he had been an “asshole” during the stop.

The next day, Hardy County Prosecutor Lucas See watched the stop video as well. Unsure of how to proceed, See contacted retired Circuit Judge Donald Cookman, who previously served as chairman of the Judicial Investigation Commission.

Cookman told See to gather information, take it to Judge Carl and to contact the Office of Disciplinary Counsel to report the incident. After Williams talked to Carl and See, Williams said he wanted to report the incident himself. He did that on July 15.

Riggleman prepared a ticket charging Williams with improper use of a cell phone and driving without a valid license. He negotiated a plea deal with See to plead no contest to the driving without a valid license charge. In exchange, the cell phone charge would be dismissed without prejudice. Williams was ordered to pay $30 and court costs.

The 24-page complaint also details other traffic stops involving Williams for expired registration and failure to wear a seatbelt. He wasn’t given a ticket during any of those stops, and the officers reported Williams’ demeanor was fine during those stops. It also says he was pulled over three different traffic violations from April to July 2021.

The JIC’s formal statement of charges says probable cause exists to formally charge Williams with the violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct and that formal discipline is appropriate.

The JDC filed a judicial ethics complaint against Williams on July 15, and he called the JDC the same day to verbally report his conduct. The JIC filed its report July 30 seeking, in part, Williams’ suspension without pay pending the outcome of the disciplinary matter.

The Supreme Court deferred ruling on the suspension without pay in an August 3 order that also stated Williams agreed to no longer preside over criminal cases in Hardy County and is prohibited from hearing any matter involving the Moorefield Police Department and/or it officers during the pendency of the proceedings.

A September 30 Supreme Court order found there is probable cause and ordered the matter remanded to the JIC. That order led to the formal statement of charges being filed.

Williams was licensed to practice law in the state on September 23, 1991. He was elected to an eight-year term on the 22nd Judicial Circuit in 2016. He took office January 1, 2017.

West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals case number 21-0878, JIC complaint numbers 78-2021 and 81-2021

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