On Friday, August 4, 2023, the Judicial Investigation Commission of West Virginia publicly admonished Mercer County Magistrate Susan A. Honaker for live-selling jewelry on her Facebook page.

The case is entitled “In the Matter of the Honorable Susan A. Honaker,” and was brought by the Judicial Disciplinary Counsel, under complaint No. 72-2023.

The charges cited Honaker’s violation of Rules 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 2.1, 3.1(A), (B), (C) and (D), 3.11(B)(1) and (2) and (C)(4), 3.12 and 3.15(A)(1) of the Code of Judicial Conduct,  which provide:

A judge shall comply with the law, including the West Virginia Code of Judicial Conduct.

A judge shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary, and shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.

A judge shall not abuse the prestige of judicial office to advance the personal or economic interests of the judge or others, or allow others to do so.

The duties of judicial office, as prescribed by law, shall take precedence over all of a judge’s personal and extrajudicial activities.

A judge may engage in extrajudicial activities, except as prohibited by law or this Code.

A judge shall not serve as an employee of any business entity except that a judge may manage or participate in:

(1) a business closely held by the judge or members of the judge’s family; or

(2) a business entity primarily engaged in investment of the financial resources of the judge or members of the judge’s family.

A judge shall not engage in financial activities permitted under Paragraphs (A) or (B) if they will result in violation of other provisions of this Code.

In a Complaint filed by the Judicial Disciplinary Counsel, Honaker was accused of engaging in outside employment without obtaining the necessary approval as mandated by the Judicial Personnel System Manual.

According to the court document, Honaker had been selling jewelry she purchased from an online company, conducting live sales on her Facebook page since 2018, and continued until early 2023. Honaker not only sold jewelry but also dabbled in selling various non-jewelry items, ranging from clothing to household items.

Her page prominently displayed her position as a magistrate and showcased her daily life at the courthouse, with photos of her at work and even videos of live sales.

The filing states:

“A scroll through Respondent’s Facebook page contained approximately 21 live sale videos from 2022, 35 live sales videos from 2021, 19 live sales videos from 2020, and 18 live sale videos from 2018-2019 for a total of approximately 93 live sale videos in five years.”

In her written response and sworn statement, Honaker admitted to at least two live-jewelry sales on her Facebook page in 2023, and that she occasionally sold jewelry at the courthouse, used a court computer to access the jewelry company website, and linked her court email address to the PayPal account she used for sales.  Honaker also acknowledged that she failed to disclose the income from her jewelry sales and that she posted inappropriate memes on her Facebook page. She acknowledged her wrongdoing, expressed genuine remorse, and agreed to never again intermingle her magistrate position with any sales.

The Commission unanimously agreed that there was enough evidence to show that Honaker broke the Code of Judicial Conduct as alleged, based on the complaint, her own admission, and the investigation’s findings and documents.

The Commission concluded that formal discipline wasn’t necessary but decided on a public admonishment.

In admonishing Honaker, the Commission stated:

“The Commission is not saying that a judicial officer can never sell anything of value to a third party.  What we wish to make clear is that the judicial officer must seek prior approval if he/she is selling on commission for a company and that he/she must not intermingle his/her judicial office in any fashion with the sale. For example, the judicial officer should not list himself/herself as a judge on the same site in which the item is sold, must refrain from conducting any such business at the courthouse or on his/her court-issued computer or phone, or link his/her court email address to a PayPal or other account for which payment is accepted.”

Honaker’s courtroom is located at 100 Rogers St, Bluefield, in West Virginia, and she can be reached at +1 304-325-3582.

A copy of the original filing can be found here.