On Thursday, May 18, 2023, the West Virginia Record reported that the Special Judicial Disciplinary Counsel recommended the suspension without pay of Deanna Rock, a 23rd Family Circuit Court Judge that covers Mineral, Morgan, and Hampshire counties in the Eastern Panhandle, for the latter’s alleged violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct.
Special JDC Rachael Cipoletti submitted a filing to the state Judicial Hearing Board on May 15, 2023, suggesting that Judge Deanna Rock should face censure, a $5,000 fine, and be held responsible for covering the expenses linked to the investigation and prosecution of the case.
On March 27, 2023, Judge Rock along with Judge Glen Stotler faced charges for allegedly conspiring to help the now-retired colleague, Family Court Judge Louise Goldston, to avoid prosecution. Judge Goldston stepped down from the bench in the midst of ongoing impeachment proceedings following her warrantless search of a man named Matt Gibson in relation to a marital property proceeding concerning Gibson and his ex-wife. During the divorce hearing, Judge Goldston told the parties to meet at Gibson’s house. Once there, Goldston led a search of the man’s home without a warrant. Judge Goldston threatened Gibson to have him arrested when he started recording the incident.
After Judge Goldston’s retirement, the Judicial Investigation Commission initiated an inquiry into the conduct of two fellow judges, namely Judge Rock and Judge Stotler. The investigation stemmed from allegations made against Judge Stotler, who had reportedly written a letter expressing his belief that the prosecutors handling Judge Goldston’s case should be dismissed by the Supreme Court through the state’s Judicial Disciplinary Counsel. Additionally, Judge Stotler sought the removal of Family Court Judge Erick Shuck, citing concerns about his mistreatment of their retired colleague.
In his letter, Judge Stotler asserted that Judge Goldston had been coerced into reaching agreements during questioning by state officials, alleging instances of intimidation and deception. However, the state Office of Disciplinary Counsel examined these claims and concluded that they were unfounded and lacked substantiation.
In relation to this, it was stated that Judge Rock accessed a copy of Judge Stotler’s letter. This occurred shortly after Stotler’s Family Court coordinator, J.R. “Joy” Campbell, transcribed the initial draft from Stotler’s handwritten notes as he dictated it to her. Cipoletti further notes that computer forensics indicate that Judge Rock opened the letter and it was automatically saved on her work computer. Allegedly, Judge Rock and Campbell put “the final touches” on the Stotler letter.
According to Cipoletti, “(Rock) admitted that the ‘Stotler letter’ was ‘not impactful’ to her until it was released in The West Virginia Record and she ‘started to hear a buzz about it’ and she thought, ‘Oh, this might’ve ruffled some feathers, although her memory was incomplete at her January (31, 2022) statement, (Rock) has since acknowledged she faxed the ‘Stotler letter’ to several Family Court Judges but denies that she faxed this letter to (The West Virginia Record).”
Judge Rock submitted her proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law on May 15, 2023, asserting that most of the charges against her are related to her first sworn statement on January 31, 2022. She claimed to have objected to questions that were beyond the scope of the complaint against Judge Stotler and highlighted that she hadn’t reviewed relevant emails, faxes, and instant messages prior to her statement.
Judge Rock argued that if she had reviewed those documents beforehand, she would have realized that she had already seen an earlier version of Judge Stotler’s letter before receiving it by mail. She expressed dissatisfaction with not being given the opportunity to review the pertinent materials attached to the written complaint.
Furthermore, Judge Rock stated that her involvement with the Stotler letter was limited, emphasizing that she did not participate in its drafting or speak with Judge Stotler before its mailing. She defended her role as merely proofreading the faxed version without involvement in the content’s creation or editing. She maintained that her responses during her first sworn statement were truthful and based on her recollection at the time.
However, according to Cipoletti’s filing, during the disciplinary hearing on March 22, 2023, Judge Rock’s testimony revealed a different perspective. She extensively discussed the pattern and practice of assisting Judge Goldston, contradicting her earlier statement that she had no knowledge of such matters. Additionally, it was revealed that Judge Rock had sent draft objections to Judge Stotler regarding the Judicial Hearing Board’s recommendation, despite testifying that she knew she couldn’t discuss the Goldston matter with Judge Stotler. This contradiction was supported by forensic evidence showing the transmission of those draft objections via email on April 6, 2021.
Judge Rock underwent a disciplinary hearing on March 22 in Morgantown, facing eight violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct. The charges included non-compliance with the law, undermining confidence in the judiciary, lack of cooperation with disciplinary authorities, and abuse of judicial office. The recommended disciplinary action by Cipoletti highlighted the direct impact of Rock’s alleged misconduct on the administration of justice and the public’s perception of it. The filing accused Rock and Stotler of using their positions to intimidate and belittle others to protect their perceived powers as family court judges, ultimately damaging the fairness and impartiality of the judiciary and eroding public confidence. Cipoletti criticized Rock for her lack of remorse and failure to acknowledge the consequences of her actions, pointing out Rock’s involvement in the creation and dissemination of false accusations, which displayed a callous disregard for the justice system and further undermined public trust.
The hearing examiner for the case was Senior Status Judge Russell M. Clawges Jr., and the Judicial Hearing Board will soon make a decision regarding the disciplinary action against Judge Rock.
Source: West Virginia Record