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W.Va. Supreme Court suspends Elkins judge

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – – Randolph County Circuit Court Judge Jaymie Godwin Wilfong has been suspended for the remainder of her term by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.

In an opinion delivered by Justice Menis E. Ketchum II, the High Court also censured the judge on each of her 11 violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct and ordered Wilfong to “pay all costs associated with the investigation and prosecution of the violations” she committed while serving the people of Randolph County.

The Court estimates the cost to be $8,000.

Thursday’s decision follows a nearly year-long investigation by the Judicial Investigation Commission and the West Virginia Office of Disciplinary Counsel, Lawyer Disciplinary Board into the judge’s admitted two-plus-year extramarital affair with the then-executive director of the North Central Community Corrections program, Travis Carter.

The Court, with Justice Allen H. Loughry II dissenting, opted to reject the Judicial Hearing Board’s recommendation, though, to fine Wilfong $20,000.

“However, justice must be mixed with a little mercy,” the Court’s decision states. “We are suspending Judge Wilfong from her job for the remainder of her term without pay. She cannot ethically take pay from any other job while she continues as a suspended judge. Should Judge Wilfong choose to resign her position, she will likely be without pay for some time still.”

West Virginia Circuit Court judges receive an annual salary of $126,000, which is set by the state Legislature.

Calls to both Wilfong and her attorney David A. Sims were not returned Thursday.

“This Court is still requiring that she pay the costs of prosecuting the charges against her, which are currently estimated to be around $8,000,” the decision continued. “And, of course, her stunningly inappropriate conduct has been revealed to the public, to her obvious embarrassment. We therefore choose to eliminate any fine from her sanction. … We generally defer to the analysis and recommendations of the Hearing Board, and we are incensed at the financial burden Judge Wilfong’s misconduct has imposed upon the public fisc (sic). This financial imposition is likely to continue into the future.”

The Randolph County Commission spent more than $50,000 investigating the affair, as Carter was directly under the county’s purview. In addition, the judiciary has spent “nearly $53,000 of the taxpayer’s money for senior-status judges to travel to Randolph County to perform in her stead,” the decision states.

Senior Status Judges Thomas W. Steptoe Jr. and Thomas H. Keadle have been filling in for Wilfong since May, when Justice Margaret L. Workman granted a motion to disqualify Wilfong from hearing cases involving the Randolph County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

Steptoe and Keadle each receive mileage and meal expenses as well as a per diem of $435 per day.

“While seemingly acknowledging the severity of Judge Wilfong’s behavior by imposing a suspension until the end of her term, the majority utterly disrespects the considerable wisdom and experience of the Judicial Hearing Board through its wholesale rejection of the recommended $20,000 fine,” Loughry wrote in his dissenting opinion.

“While the majority justifies its actions as merciful, it should not be overlooked that substantial mercy was already afforded by the Judicial Hearing Board, which could have imposed an eleven-year (sic) suspension and a $55,000 fine for Judge Wilfong’s eleven (sic) violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct,” Loughry added.

The High Court’s decision did have harsh words for Wilfong.

“A judge is held to a higher standard of personal and professional conduct, and an illicit sexual relationship involving a judge is inconsistent with the high standards of conduct required of judges,” the decision stated. “This is particularly so where the relationship involves a person who appears before the judge, and where the judge engages in sexual relations on courthouse property, during court hours. Judge Wilfong’s conduct demeaned her office, impaired the integrity of the judiciary and substantially undermined public confidence in the administration of justice in Randolph County.”

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