On Thursday, May 4, 2023, the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia suspended Carter Williams, a judge of the 22nd Judicial Circuit in West Virginia, for making coercive and retaliatory comments against a person in uniform while being stopped for a traffic violation.
The case is entitled “In the Matter of C. Carter Williams,” with case no. 21-0878.
The disciplinary proceedings against the respondent were initiated after an incident where he was stopped for a traffic violation in July 2021 by an officer of the Moorefield Police Department. During and after the incident the respondent allegedly identified himself as a judge, contacted the officer’s supervisors, including the Chief of Police and the mayor, and made coercive and retaliatory comments. The West Virginia Judicial Hearing Board concluded that the respondent’s conduct violated multiple provisions of the Code of Judicial Conduct and the Rules of Professional Conduct and warrants suspension without pay.
The filing states:
“On July 11, 2021, Respondent visited an ice cream shop with his family and then left the shop alone, in his own vehicle. He returned to the shop because he believed he had forgotten his cell phone there but was unable to locate it. While driving home, he heard something drop and, assuming it to be the missing cell phone, picked it up and transferred it from his left to his right hand while his hands were on the wheel. Officer Deavonta Johnson observed Respondent with the phone in his hand on the steering wheel and initiated a traffic stop close to 7:30 p.m. Body cam footage shows that Officer Johnson approached the vehicle, and before Officer Johnson spoke, Respondent asked, “[w]hat’s the problem?” Officer Johnson greeted Respondent, “How you doing, sir, . . . the reason I’m stopping you are. . .” but was interrupted when Respondent s ai d “I’m Judge Williams, and, I don’t . . . why are you stopping me?”
The filing continues:
“The situation escalated when the Respondent insisted that he had not done anything wrong and initially refused to provide his license and registration. Respondent then stated several times that the police are often on their cell phones and not on official business, asking Officer Johnson, “You’re never on yours ?” in an angry tone. Officer Johnson again asked why the Respondent was yelling. Respondent then provided his license and registration, his hands and body noticeably shaking. Respondent then motioned for Officer Johnson to go back to his vehicle and said “Go ahead and give me a ticket. Give me a ticket.”
The filing further states:
“When Officer Johnson asked why he was shaking, Respondent answered, “I’m irritated because you pulled me over for no reason.” Respondent again attempted to explain that he only had the phone in his hand and likened it to holding a cup. Respondent then told Officer Johnson, “Give me a ticket. Go ahead.” Respondent stated he would take the ticket up to the town office and take it to trial, then said “It’s ridiculous, what you’re doing.” He repeated that officers are on their phones and do not get pulled over, then stated “and don’t tell me it’s on official business, I hear your cases every day in court. Go give me a ticket. Give me a ticket. I’m really irritated about this whole . . . go ahead and give me a ticket.”
The filing additionally notes:
“Officer Johnson then returned to his vehicle. There, he confirmed that the Respondent’s license had expired a few months earlier. While in the vehicle, Officer Johnson received a call from his supervisor, Lieutenant Melody Burrows, whom Respondent had called once Officer Johnson returned to his vehicle. Lt. Burrows, in later testimony and sworn statements, elucidated that on the call Respondent told her that her “ boy ” had pulled him over, calling Officer Johnson “y our boy” several times. Officer Johnson is African – American. Lt. Burrows testified that she knew he was referring to Officer Johnson because she does the scheduling and knew he was the only officer on duty in her department that evening.”
According to the court, the respondent’s action of calling the officer’s supervisor during the traffic stop can only reasonably be interpreted as coercive, and the calls made thereafter were a blatant invocation of his office. The court agreed with the JHB’s view of the evidence and adopt its findings, specifically, that respondent improperly invoked his office, employed coercive tactics in contacting various public officials that evening, and suggested he might change his rulings in cases in retaliation for the traffic stop.
Having concluded that the respondent committed multiple violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct and the Rules of Professional Conduct, the court decided that the JHB’s recommended sanction against the respondent should be increased to a six-month suspension without pay.
The Conclusion states:
“For the reasons stated above, we impose the following sanctions: (1) Respondent is suspended from his position as a circuit judge in the Twenty-second Judicial Circuit for a period of six months, without pay; (2) Respondent will maintain compliance with the JLAP monitoring agreement for a period of two years, violation of which is reportable to the JIC; (3) Respondent is censured; (4) Respondent is ordered to pay a fine of $5,000; and (5) Respondent is ordered to pay the costs of this disciplinary proceeding, except that Respondent is not responsible for the costs associated with Dr. Clayman’s review of VCAP records.”
Judge Williams sits as a judge of the 22nd Judicial Circuit in West Virginia located at 204 Washington Street, Room 203 Moorefield, WV 26836, and can be reached at 304-530-0275. His info can be found on ballotpedia.org.
A copy of the original filing can be found here.