Moral Dilemma

Yet another crack in the foundation of the Randolph County judiciary appeared Monday as details of an extramarital affair between Judge Jaymie Godwin Wilfong and a county employee were aired, further eroding public confidence in an already scandal-plagued legal system.

The 20th Judicial Circuit judge’s 27-page narrative in response to the West Virginia Judicial Investigation Committee’s formal statement of charges was graphic in nature, meandering and at times deflective to the issue at hand.

Revelations that Judge Wilfong performed sexual acts in chambers during court hours and utilized colleagues’ personal residences to further the affair put an additional pall over an already arduous situation.

While many Randolph County residents regard the matter as personal – between two consenting adults – the roots and ramifications of the situation run much deeper.

These actions open up further financial liability for the county, which already has paid a Pittsburgh law firm to investigate the issue and the involvement of former North Central Community Corrections Executive Director Travis Carter.

Further, Carter and his staff appeared before Judge Wilfong at least 46 times, offering sworn and unsworn testimony, during the breadth of the two’s affair.

Financial liability and legal ramifications aside, the relationship opens up a virtual Pandora’s box concerning morality and the legal code of conduct.

The fact is – as Judge Wilfong admits in her own words – the affair casts serious aspersions on not just herself but the integrity of her office and the judiciary as a whole.

“I trust when all of the facts are learned about this matter, people will determine that though what I did was wrong, it did not impair my ability to conduct court and do the work the citizens of Randolph County hired me to do. I know that the citizens of Randolph County have to be disappointed in me, as I am disappointed, but I deserve the right to be judged fairly and impartially and I have the right to defend myself from the charges leveled again me,” Wilfong wrote.

Indeed, the citizens of Randolph County should be disappointed that this is yet another incident in a litany of scandals to plague the courthouse.

For decades, Randolph County’s legal system has been under a dark cloud of controversy. On the heels of the Rich Busch scandal in the prosecuting attorney’s office, this latest ethical dilemma has insulted and jeopardized public trust.

While Judge Wilfong does deserve and is afforded the right to defend herself from these charges, the fact remains she admitted to many of the points made in the JIC complaint.

Even though an affair by itself does not carry the same personal stigma as it once did, the fact that it occurred between two people responsible for upholding justice is disturbing and disappointing.

Judge Wilfong has not only cast a dark veil over her own tenure on the bench, she has jeopardized and, quite possibly, eliminated any remaining shred of the public’s trust in the legal system and in elected officials in general.

It would be difficult, if not impossible, for Judge Wilfong to continue sitting in judgement of others after an ordeal that puts her own moral compass in question.

These charges and Judge Wilfong’s own admissions are of a serious and egregious nature that will not diminish over time.

For Judge Wilfong to stay on the bench is tantamount to a slap in the face to each and every citizen of Randolph County, its judiciary and the state’s entire legal system.

While Judge Wilfong is entitled to due process in this matter, moving forward would do far more harm than good.

For these reason, The Inter-Mountain encourages Judge Wilfong to do the right thing and resign her position as circuit court judge.

That way, the healing process can begin for not only Judge Wilfong and her family and for Carter and his family, but for the people of Randolph County, who deserve a better and more ethical legal system.