Two-Year Suspension for W.Va. Judge’s Affair

     (CN) – A West Virginia judge who had an affair with a local corrections official cannot serve the next two years of her term, the state Supreme Court of Appeals ruled.
     Elected in 2008 as the only circuit court judge in Randolph County, Judge Jaymie Godwin Wilfong admitted last fall that, for the last two years, she and William Travis Carter engaged in an affair that they hid from their respective spouses.
     Carter’s position as director of the board of the North Central Community Corrections program meant that he often appeared in Wilfong’s court.
     He or his staff members appeared in Wilfong’s court 46 times, mostly to testify as to whether a defendant was a candidate for alternate sentencing through NCCC, the appellate court found.
     Wilfong used her judicial chambers to conduct her tryst with Carter during business hours, according to the Oct. 30 ruling, written for the court by Justice Menis Ketchum II.
     “At times when the two were alone in chambers, court personnel would find it necessary to knock on the door and interrupt Judge Wilfong’s activities in order to insist that she continue with the daily court proceedings,” Ketchum wrote.
     In disclosing her affair to her secretary, her law clerk and a probation officer, Wilfong “placed her court staff in the position of having to be deceptive and explain away her relationship with Mr. Carter,” the decision states.
     The court noted that Wilfong sent nude photos of herself to Carter, along with sexually explicit emails and text messages.
     As a member of the NCCC board, Wilfong helped to set the budget for the office as well as Carter’s salary, the court found.
     She was also responsible for persuading the county commission to supply Carter with a four-wheel-drive vehicle, according to the ruling.
     Wilfong reported her affair to the Judicial Investigation Commission in October 2013 after its chief counsel contacted her because he heard a rumor about it, the decision states.
     Four more complaints about her actions have since surfaced, the court said. Local news outlets reported that Tucker resigned in December. After a hearing board said Wilfong violated seven canons of the Code of Judicial Conduct, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals agreed last month that she should be suspended without pay until Dec. 31, 2016, the last day of her term.
     The court noted that Wilfong undermined any good will she achieved in admitting to the affair by arguing that Carter seduced her, and that she was so blinded by the relationship that she did not notice the conflict in her court cases.
     Wilfong had lobbied for a suspension of no more than 60 days.
     “When the sexual misconduct of a judge occurs in the judge’s chambers or courtroom, it is usually unquestionable that the judge’s actions have impaired the honor, integrity, dignity and efficiency of the judiciary,” Ketchum wrote.
     The court did nix the proposed $20,000 fine in light of the unpaid suspension.
     “Justice must be mixed with a little mercy,” Ketchum wrote.
     Justice Allen Loughry II dissented from the four-member panel in part, reserving the right to file a separate opinion.

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