Wilfong hearing to start Monday

ELKINS – Randolph County Circuit Court Judge Jaymie Godwin Wilfong will face a nine-member Judicial Hearing Board next week that will determine her future on the bench.

Testimony is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. Monday at the Kanawha County Judicial Building in Charleston, with proceedings expected to last at least three full days.

The hearing follows months of investigations by the West Virginia Office of Disciplinary Counsel Lawyer Disciplinary Board into the judge’s admitted affair with former North Central Community Corrections Director Travis Carter.

The two-year extra-marital relationship occurred while both were serving in their official capacities, with Wilfong sitting on the Correctional Board as a non-voting member. During that period, the judge sentenced several offenders to the program.

Specifically, the Judicial Investigation Commission charges Wilfong with violating four cannons of the Code of Judicial Conduct: integrity and independence of the judiciary; impropriety and the appearance of impropriety; impartial performance of duties; and conduct of extra-judicial activities to minimize the risk of conflict with judicial obligations.

The JIC issued its formal statement of charges on April 17, nearly six months after Wilfong self-reported the relationship. The judge issued her official response April 26.

In Wilfong’s filing, she admitted to performing oral sex on Carter in her office “three or less times” and to sending sexually explicit photographs and text messages to Carter on his county-issued cell phone.

Carter resigned his community corrections post in December 2013.

Since the initial JIC filings, Wilfong has spent limited time on the bench. In late April, Randolph County Prosecuting Attorney Michael Parker, Randolph County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Lori Gray and several other area attorneys filed motions to disqualify Judge Wilfong from hearing their cases. The motions were granted by the state Supreme Court. Parker, Wilfong’s law clerk Mary Wendekier; attorney Christopher Cooper; and a group of attorneys, R. Mike Mullens, Heather Weese, Raymond LaMora and David Wilmoth, filed complaints with the JIC against Wilfong over the relationship.

Senior Status Judges Thomas W. Steptoe Jr. and Thomas H. Keadle have been filling in for Wilfong since the motions to disqualify were granted.

Steve Canterbury, with the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, says there are three potential outcomes for Wilfong. The first is no action, with the second being an official written reprimand. Lastly, the court could suspend – with or without pay – Wilfong for up to one year per count of wrongdoing. That would, in effect, remove Wilfong for the remainder of her term on the bench. If that happens, though, it would not stop Wilfong from running for the office again.

Canterbury said after the hearing is complete, the nine-member board will make a recommendation to the state Supreme Court, which will render a final ruling. No timeframe is set for a decision.

Members of the nine-person panel are:

Preston County Circuit Court Judge Lawrance S. Miller Jr. (presiding);

Senior Status Judge Robert G. Chafin, Wayne County;

Taylor County Circuit Court Judge Alan D. Moats;

Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Darrell Pratt;

Family Court Judge Patricia A. Keller, Cabell County;

Barbour County Magistrate Tina Mouser;

Attorney Holly S. Planinsic, partner with Herndon, Morton, Herndon & Yeager, of Wheeling;

Lay member Jacqueline K. Farrell, Huntington;

Lay member George Poole, Huntington.

Wilfong is being represented by Elkins attorney David A. Sims and Charleston attorney Harry G. Deitzler.