On Friday, November 17, 2023, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals ruled that two protective orders issued by Berkeley County Circuit Court Judge Bridget Cohee on February 9, 2023, were not enforceable and issued a writ prohibiting the orders from taking effect.

The protective orders were issued during juvenile delinquency proceedings involving R.W. III, a minor. On February 6, 2023, R.W. III’s guardian ad litem gave an oral report to Judge Cohee during a status hearing, alleging the minor had disclosed physical and mental abuse by his father, petitioner R.W. Jr. Neither R.W. Jr. nor his attorney were present at this hearing.

Without holding an additional hearing or giving R.W. Jr. notice or an opportunity to respond to the allegations, Judge Cohee sua sponte ordered that domestic violence protective orders be entered against R.W. Jr. in both of R.W. III’s delinquency cases. The written orders, issued on February 9th, prohibited R.W. Jr. from contacting R.W. III and another child, possessing firearms, and warned he could be jailed or fined for violations.

According to the ruling, R.W. Jr. and his attorney had no notice that protective orders would be discussed or issued at the February 6th hearing. No verified petition was filed regarding the guardian ad litem’s allegations. The protective orders also did not contain a termination date.

R.W. Jr. filed a writ of prohibition with the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, arguing the protective orders were issued through a clearly erroneous and procedurally improper process that violated his due process rights. The Court agreed the requested writ of prohibition should be granted.

In its memorandum decision, the Court found Judge Cohee failed to follow any of the statutory requirements for issuing domestic violence protective orders. No petition was filed as required, and R.W. Jr. was not served notice or given a hearing to defend himself before the restrictive orders were entered as final.

The court ruled Judge Cohee’s protective orders were clearly erroneous as a matter of law due to the lack of notice and opportunity to be heard afforded to R.W. Jr. It granted the writ of prohibition, prohibiting enforcement of the February 9th orders.

Judge Cohee currently serves the 23rd Judicial Circuit in Jefferson and Berkeley Counties. Elected in May 2016, Judge Cohee presides over civil, felony, abuse/neglect, and juvenile cases. She also serves on the Judicial Investigation Commission, Court Improvement Project, Juvenile Drug Court, and is a member of the Executive Committee for the Judicial Association.

A copy of the original filing can be found here.