Judge self-reports relationship

ELKINS – Randolph County Circuit Court Judge Jaymie Godwin Wilfong released a statement Wednesday acknowledging a relationship with a county employee in response to being questioned by The Inter-Mountain about the situation.

That individual, whom she named as Travis Carter, is the regional director of North Central Community Corrections. He is employed by the Randolph County Commission, which recently placed him on suspended leave pending an investigation.

Also looking into the matter is the state Judicial Investigation Commission.

Wilfong said four complaints were filed with the JIC regarding her relationship with Carter.

One complaint, which she maintains was the first on record with the state agency, was her self-report in an effort to follow the appropriate procedures for disclosing a personal connection. The other complaints were filed later and in response to her disclosure, she said, noting the allegations in those filings mirror what she self-reported to the JIC.

“A few weeks ago, I notified the agency that oversees judges that there had been a relationship with Mr. Carter. I did this in an abundance of caution to avoid an appearance of impropriety. It is unfortunate when private matters become topics for public speculation, but I understand I am a public figure in this county,” Wilfong wrote in a prepared statement.

“I work very hard every day to serve the citizens of Randolph County. However, I am not a perfect person. I am working to restore the faith of my family and those who care about me, and I am genuinely sorry I have disappointed so many people,” she continued.

Wilfong and Carter each have spouses.

Much speculation has abounded in the region about this alleged relationship. Rumors heightened after the Commission suspended Carter from his position last week. The Inter-Mountain has been actively investigating the suspension – which had been without pay – since it was announced during an emergency meeting Oct. 16.

The Commission later amended the suspension to include pay and addressed the topic during its Oct. 17 regularly scheduled session, when it also unanimously voted to hire an outside law firm to investigate the situation.

Neither county officials nor their legal representation in the matter have indicated why Carter was suspended – other than stating it was because of a “personnel matter.”

“The Randolph County Commission, through its legal counsel, Paul Krepps of Marshall, Dennehey, Warner, Coleman & Goggin, continues to gather information regarding the actions of Mr. Carter during the weeks prior to his suspension,” Commissioner Mike Taylor said Wednesday.

A phone message left for Carter was not returned as of presstime. However, his counsel, Bader Giggenbach of the law firm Brewer & Giggenbach, PLLC, of Morgantown, provided a written statement on his client’s behalf.

“Travis Carter has successfully worked with area leaders to create and to develop North Central Community Corrections. He is a dedicated and valued public employee, and he wants to continue with the progress of transforming criminal offenders,” Giggenbach wrote. “Mr. Carter will cooperate with any investigation into any personal relations he may have had with Judge Wilfong. Although the judge is a public figure, this is also a private matter that Mr. Carter is working through with his own family.”

Wilfong, who has practiced law since 1995 and has been on the bench since 2003, said she has had a spotless disciplinary record during her tenure. After private practice, Wilfong was a family court judge in Randolph, Tucker and Grant counties from January 2003 to December 2008. Elected to the position of judge for the 20th Judicial Circuit, she was sworn in Jan. 1, 2009, and her eight-year term will expire Dec. 31, 2016, unless Wilfong runs for and wins re-election.

Further details about the nature of her alleged relationship with Carter or what is contained within the complaints filed with the JIC are not a matter of public record at this time.

Rule 2.4 of the Rules of Judicial Disciplinary Procedure provides, “The details of complaints filed or investigations conducted by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel shall be confidential. The details/investigation remain confidential unless the judicial officer has been admonished by JIC or a statement of charges has been issued.”

Wilfong has neither been admonished by the JIC nor has a statement of charges – similar to an indictment in a criminal case – been issued. In addition, circuit court business will continue as scheduled, including grand jury, which is set to convene Monday. Wilfong said there is a full docket all next week and there has been no change in the scheduling of cases.

According to the website courtswv.gov, the investigation of complaints filed against a member of the judiciary can be quite lengthy. Under a section titled frequently asked questions, the website indicated the following in response to: How long does it take to resolve a complaint?

“The Commission normally meets once every two months, so final disposition may take several months, depending on the complexity of the matter. You will receive written notice of the final disposition at such time as it is appropriate. In addition, the Commission has no emergency powers and cannot, under any circumstances, interfere in any pending or ongoing litigation,” the website states.

Wilfong is subject to the governance of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. The JIC may dismiss the complaints outright or choose to investigate further, moving through multiple steps that may lead to disciplinary action. However, the fact a complaint or multiple complaints are filed does not constitute misconduct and/or the need for action. That will be up to the JIC to recommend and the state Supreme Court to decide, should the complaints move forward through the vetting process, the website explains.

Though no official with the JIC would provide comment on the record, it appears from sources familiar with the case locally that any speculation about the future of the complaints and/or the investigation would be premature at this time.

The county, however, is following its own process of investigation, some of which was outlined Wednesday, when the North Central Community Corrections Board of Directors met to discuss how the program will proceed.

Erin Golden, finance manager with Community Corrections, was elevated to acting director. Also, board members were given a brief overview regarding Carter’s suspension.

Taylor, who sits on the board as a representative of the County Commission, stated because of the sensitivity of the inquiry, very little information could be shared with the board.

“I want to assure the residents and taxpayers of Randolph County, that the Commission takes the inquiry very seriously and is doing everything possible to follow proper procedures during this inquiry,” he said. “The residents deserve that we protect the interests of the taxpayers of the county, and at the same time, follow strict state and federal employment law.”

According to the Commission’s website, randolphcountycommissionwv.org, Community Corrections is “an alternative program that provides structured and rehabilitative services to citizens of Randolph, Pocahontas, and Tucker count(ies) to help them become motivated and successful citizens.”

The program was established in 2005 by Carter, who, “with the help of the judicial system, developed a correctional program beneficial to Randolph County that would provide rehabilitative services to transition offenders back to their local community.”

“The Randolph County Community Corrections established a working relationship with the judicial system, the local board and the community, during the first few years of operation – to determine what services are needed for the offender population of Randolph County,” the website states.

The program later was expanded to include other counties in what has become a regional approach to solving overcrowding issues at jails and holding facilities in this part of the state.