JIC charges filed against Wilfong

ELKINS – Admitted liaisons including oral sex in judicial chambers and other explicit details about an affair between a Randolph County judge and a former county corrections employee have resulted in charges by the state Judicial Investigation Commission for alleged ethics violations.

Judge Jaymie Godwin Wilfong of the 20th Judicial Circuit Court is named in the formal statement by the JIC, which also alleges discipline is appropriate based upon probable cause findings No. 1 through No. 34. as outlined in its extensive 10-page filing with the state Supreme Court of Appeals.

At the heart of the charges is Judge Wilfong’s admitted intimate relationship with Travis Carter while he was the director of the North Central Community Corrections program. The JIC received five formal complaints, including one self-report from Wilfong, about she and Carter’s affair that reportedly lasted at least two years.

Wilfong officially responded to the complaints and wrote in her 27-page submission to the JIC, “I admit, with reluctance, that I performed oral sex on William Travis Carter, prior to October of 2012, while he was in my office on three or less times.”

She further wrote, “I admit, with reluctance, that I sent sexually explicit e-mails, texts, instant messages and nude photos of my breasts to William Travis Carter.”

The JIC documents reveal Wilfong’s law clerk, Mary Catherine Wendekier, Randolph County Prosecuting Attorney Michael Parker, attorney Christopher Cooper and Community Corrections board members R. Mike Mullens, Heather Weese, Raymond LaMora and David Wilmoth all filed complaints in addition to the judge’s self-report.

Throughout her answer to the charges, Wilfong stresses several times that Carter never testified in open court during the breadth of their relationship. The judge does admit to taking comments from Carter on cases, but in an unofficial capacity. Approximately 46 criminal cases are in question, where testimony – either sworn or unsworn – was offered by Carter or members of his staff.

Wilfong further apologizes for the affair in her answer to the JIC, writing, “I want people to recognize that I am a human being, subject to their same frailties; being circuit judge does not exempt me. It was those frailties that permitted me to become involved in a relationship I knew in my heart was wrong. I have disappointed my husband, Matt Wilfong, my family, Travis Carter’s family and his wife and I have certainly disappointed those people who elected me as their Circuit Judge.”

The Judge goes on to express that the relationship never affected her ability or decision-making skills on the bench, noting, “My relationship with William Travis Carter did not affect my work as a judge. I did my job and I continue to do my job. The Statement of Charges does not allege that my work on the bench was compromised by the relationship; it alleges that the appearance of the judicial system and its integrity were harmed and I admit that.”

A JIC representative said last week the matter has been taken over by the West Virginia Office of Disciplinary Counsel, Lawyer Disciplinary Board, because Wilfong is a sitting member of the Judicial Hearing Board. That association, the JIC official said, is a conflict of interest. Wilfong has since resigned her position on that board.

Rachael Fletcher Cipoletti, chief lawyer with the Disciplinary Counsel, told The Inter-Mountain Monday that a hearing date will be set within 120 days of the filing of the Statement of Charges, which was April 17.

OTHER CHARGES FROM THE JIC FILING AND WILFONG’S RESPONSES

Thirty-four findings are listed within the four primary charges in connection to the affair, which by Wilfong’s admission began in October 2011 and concluded in October 2013 near the time the judge self-reported to the JIC.

Specifically, the JIC cited Wilfong for violating four canons of the Code of Judicial Conduct: the integrity and independence of the judiciary; the avoidance of impropriety in all of the judge’s activities; the performance of the duties of the judicial office impartially; and diligently and conducting extra-judicial activities to minimize the risk of conflict with judicial obligation.

The JIC report and the judge’s response were released to The Inter-Mountain Monday by attorneys David A. Sims and Harry G. Deitzler, Wilfong’s counsel.

A complete list of filings is online at www.theintermountain.com. Several key ones and Wilfong’s responses are as follows:

Filing 16: “Court personnel, members of the Bar, and members of the gallery in the courtroom witnessed Judge Wilfong crying or otherwise distraught while presiding over court proceedings.”

In her response, Judge Wilfong admits to being emotional during some court proceedings, but denies those reactions were always caused by her relationship with Carter.

“I admit that I have cried and been emotionally distraught while in the courtroom I am a human being with emotions. My grandfather lay dying in the hospital across town for a week. I was emotional during that time period as well, but I did not let it interfere with my work. I continued to do my job, just like I always do.”

Filing 19: “During the course of the relationship with Carter, at times when Carter and Judge Wilfong were in her judicial chambers, it became necessary for court personnel to interrupt Judge Wilfong and Carter in order to insist that Judge Wilfong continue with the daily court proceedings.”

The judge denies these allegations, writing in her JIC response, “My staff is very good at helping me move cases along, for which I am grateful. It is important to run an efficient docket, which I do, and to suggest that I was not diligently carrying out those duties of court is not fair.”

Filing 21: “Judge Wilfong enlisted the assistance of Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Lori A. Gray, a licensed member of the Randolph County Bar, to further her relationship and her sexual contact with Carter by repeatedly requesting the use of and utilizing Gray’s personal residence to meet with Carter.”

Wilfong again denies the allegations, noting her friendship with Gray and the fact she wrote a letter of recommendation for law school admission for her friend and associate.

She wrote, “William Travis Carter and I did spend time at Ms. Gray’s house. I admit that I asked her on about four occasions to spend time with Mr. Carter at her house. There was no quid pro quo, as this allegation implies. Ms. Gray invited us to stay after she left. It was at her invitation. There were not visits to Ms. Gray’s home after September of 2012.”

Filing 24: “Judge Wilfong also enlisted the assistance of Attorney Phillip S. Isner, a licensed member of the Randolph County Bar, who practices criminal (sic) before Judge Wilfong, to further her relationship and sexual contact with Carter by repeatedly requesting and obtaining the use of Isner’s garage at his personal residence to meet with Carter.”

The judge admits some allegations, including, “I did ask Phillip Isner to use his garage on two occasions between October of 2011 and September of 2012.” Isner served as Wilfong’s campaign manager during her run for the bench in 2008.

Filing 26: “From October 2011 until October 2013, Carter and/or his subordinate staff from North Central Community Corrections appeared before Judge Wilfong in approximately forty-six (46) criminal matters to offer sworn testimony and/or unsworn testimony to enable Judge Wilfong to evaluate possible alternative sentencing at North Central Community Corrections or to evaluate whether participants had violated terms of placement at North Central Community Corrections. Judge Wilfong did not disclose the relationship with Carter on the record to parties in any of the above-referenced court proceedings.”

Wilfong noted in her response that Carter did not testify before the court during their relationship. “I do admit that on two occasions during the course of the relationship members of Mr. Carter’s staff provided sworn testimony,” Wilfong wrote. “I also admit that Mr. Carter offered opinions about what should happen to persons on the program during our relationship, but I deny that our relationship impacted what I had done on any case, including those where Mr. Carter provided an opinion.”

Filing 30: “The evidence is that the inappropriate relationship between the two continued until Judge Wilfong self-reported it in October of 2013.”

The judge admits she was involved with Carter from October 2011 to early October 2013. Wilfong does clarify that “no sexual acts (happened) after September of 2012.”

Filing 32: “Until October 2013, Judge Wilfong regularly attended the North Central Community Corrections Board meetings and participated in discussions regarding Board issues, including, but not limited to: operational budgets for Carter’s office and Carter’s salary.”

Wilfong acknowledges that she is indeed an ex-officio member of the North Central Community Corrections Board. She wrote, “I did not dominate it, nor did I vote on anything. I was able to participate in discussions regarding Board issues, including operational budgets and salaries for the office, but that does not mean I did so, nor does it mean that my input made any difference to anyone.”

Filing 33: “Judge Wilfong supported salary raises and equipment for Carter to the North Central Community Corrections Board and the Randolph County Commission without disclosing her relationship to Mr. Carter to either the Board or Commission.”

Wilfong admits the charges, writing, “I admit that I supported salary raises for Erin Golden, and I believe for Anthony Severino. I did not do this for any improper purpose. I also admit that I supported a salary increase for Mr. Carter in 2009, but that was long before any relationship with him.”

Filing 34: “During the course of the relationship with Carter, Judge Wilfong assured Carter that she would advise Randolph County Commission President Michael Taylor that she would stop utilizing North Central Community Corrections if Carter was no longer its Executive Director.”

The judge also admits to once telling Carter, “that I would not use North Central Community Corrections without his leadership and that I would share that with Randolph County Commissioner Mike Taylor.”

CARTER

The Randolph County Commission initially suspended Carter – without pay – at an emergency meeting on 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 – Marshall, Dennehey, Warner, Coleman and Goggin of Pittsburgh – to investigate the situation.

Carter officially resigned his position on Dec. 5 after the completion of the investigation.

Carter wrote in his resignation letter, “It has been a painful decision to resign, but my family and I have decided that it is best to find other employment. It would be difficult for me to remain in the position and to be an effective leader in light of the ethical allegations surrounding Judge Wilfong.”

Terms of the agreement between Carter and the county were not disclosed; however, The Inter-Mountain filed a Freedom of Information Act request today seeking release of the information, as county funds were not only used to fund the position, but also county monies have since been utilized during the investigation process. In a separate FOIA request, the newspaper is seeking the release of Carter’s computer and cell phone records during his tenure as the head of Community Corrections.

COMMUNITY CORRECTIONS

The program was initially established in 2005 as the Randolph County Community Corrections program. In 2007, the program expanded to include Tucker and Pocahontas counties, and was renamed the North Central Community Corrections program.

The initiative provides offenders structure and guidance to lead a productive and healthy lifestyle and to make a smooth transition into the community after release from incarceration. The program also gives the judicial system the option of a community-based alternative sentencing program.