Wilfong disqualified from some cases

ELKINS – The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals granted a motion filed Thursday by Randolph County Prosecuting Attorney Michael Parker to disqualify Circuit Court Judge Jaymie Godwin Wilfong from hearing cases involving the prosecutor’s office.

The move comes on the heels of a Judicial Investigation Commission Statement of Charges against Judge Wilfong, and her response admitting to an extramarital affair with then-North Central Community Corrections Director Travis Carter. Carter and his staff offered sworn and unsworn testimony in Judge Wilfong’s court.

With the approval of the motion, Judge Wilfong will no longer hear cases connected with the prosecutor’s office until the JIC matter is resolved. Instead, a special judge will be appointed to preside over those proceedings, including today’s docket.

Wilfong still may hear other civil and juvenile cases, but similar disqualification motions already have been filed.

Among those is a motion filed by attorney Heather Weese, who appears before Judge Wilfong in juvenile cases. Weese filed her motion Thursday as well. Several other local attorneys are expected to make similar requests today. Weese’s motion has not been acted on by the high court.

In his filing, Parker cities possible bias by Judge Wilfong stemming from his own submission of an ethics complaint with the JIC. He also notes possible inclusion as a witness in Judge Wilfong’s upcoming hearing. Parker submitted his ethics complaint on Oct. 16, 2013, two days after Wilfong’s self-report.

Parker was notified in a letter dated April 28 from Chief Lawyer Disciplinary Counsel Rachael L. Fletcher Cipoletti that he will be listed as a witness in this matter. Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Lori Gray and Weese received the same letter.

Both Parker and Gray were mentioned multiple times in Judge Wilfong’s response to the JIC Statement of Charges, prompting Thursday’s filing. Wilfong has been in Charleston all week at an Adult Drug Court Conference. Senior Status Judge Thomas Steptoe has been filling in during Wilfong’s absence, including Thursday’s sentencing in the Wade Raese case.

In Parker’s seven-page motion, filed at 1:14 p.m. Thursday, he cites new developments and specific instances where he is mentioned in Wilfong’s JIC response.

“Since the filing of said judicial ethics complaint against Judge Wilfong and until the filing of this pleading, the State has not requested that Judge Wilfong be disqualified from presiding over any of the State’s cases. However, as detailed herein below, the facts and circumstances surrounding this issue have significantly changed such that the State believes the only prudent course at this time is seeking Judge Wilfong’s disqualification from presiding over any and all cases prosecuted or otherwise handled by the Randolph County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office,” Parker wrote.

“… Judge Wilfong responded to the allegations of the undersigned and made numerous affirmative allegations regarding the undersigned, including, ‘Despite the Prosecuting Attorney’s knowledge of the affair, he never raised any objection about it prior to the filing of the judicial ethics complaint against me and never suggested formally, or informally, that he perceived anything wrong with my relationship with William Travis Carter. He never objected to anything in Court that occurred and it was not until the Complaint was filed did I learn of Mr. Parker’s concern.'”

Parker also cited Wilfong’s disclosure that she asked Gray to use her residence to spend time with Mr. Carter at her residence on about four occasions.

“Certainly, the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned in cases prosecuted or otherwise handled by the Randolph County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office given the fact that the undersigned and his assistant prosecuting attorney, Lori A. Gray, have been listed as witnesses in a pending case against Judge Wilfong that could result in discipline up to and including her suspension,” Parker wrote in his motion.

“Based upon the aforesaid and considering W.Va. Code of Judicial Conduct Canon 3(E)(1)(a) (2014), the undersigned believes that it could be reasonably inferred that the judge may have a personal bias or prejudice concerning the undersigned and/or Lori A. Gray. Moreover, W.Va. Code of Judicial Conduct Canon 2 provides ‘A judge shall respect and comply with the law, shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all of the judge’s activities, and shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.’ The state believes, based upon the facts stated herein above, that there is no possible way that Judge Wilfong can preside over any cases prosecuted or otherwise handled by the Randolph County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office and do so in a manner that avoids the appearance of impropriety and promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.”

Weese expressed similar concerns to Parker’s in her motion to disqualify.

“According to the principals established in Cannon 3(E)(1)(a) of the West Virginia Code of Judicial Conduct, Judge Wilfong’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned because Judge Wilfong has a ‘personal bias or prejudice concerning a party or a party’s lawyer.’ Based upon my status as a witness at the upcoming hearings against Judge Wilfong, I believe there exists personal bias or prejudice which would prevent her from presiding over any of my proceedings…”

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.

Cipoletti said a hearing date will be set within 120 days of the filing of the Statement of Charges, which was April 17.