Randolph County Circuit Court Judge Jaymie Wilfong made a terrible mistake, and she admits it.
The first-term judge had a two-year affair between 2011 and 2013 with Travis Carter, while Carter served as Director of the North Central Community Corrections (NCCC). That agency worked with the judge to decide which defendants should be candidates for alternative sentencing.
Both Wilfong and Carter were married, and they carried on their affair quietly, although at least one local attorney contends there was “wide-ranging community knowledge of the relationship.”
The relationship included sexual liaisons between the two in Judge Wilfong’s courthouse office and at the home of an assistant prosecuting attorney. Wilfong also sent sexually explicit emails, texts, instant messages and nude pictures of herself to Carter.
The affair raises serious conflict of interest concerns. The Judicial Investigation Commission report says Carter and/or his subordinate staff from NCCC appeared before Judge Wilfong in approximately 46 criminal matters where the judge had to decide whether defendants had violated the terms of their placement in the community corrections program.
There is also evidence that Wilfong continued the relationship with Carter even after state Supreme Court Administrator Steve Canterbury raised concerns about the ethical implications. Wilfong contends in her response to the report that the sex stopped after Canterbury’s warning.
Before we sew the scarlet “A” on Wilfong’s robe, it’s important to note a couple of points.
To her credit, the Judge self-reported the affair and the possible conflicts of interest last year to the Judicial Investigation Commission. In her response to the Commission, Wilfong said, “I take full and complete responsibility” for the affair.
It was a consensual affair. The judge did not use the power of her position to force herself on a subordinate.
Wilfong has been, by all accounts, a hard-working judge who has been active in the community. She has overseen the implementation of adult and juvenile drug courts and broken down barriers to the judiciary by visiting every school in the county.
The judge also admits that “the judicial process and its integrity have been negatively impacted.” However she adds that she never let the affair interfere with her work.
Wilfong is a sympathetic figure. She’s human, she made a mistake, and now she’s owning it. The problem, however, is that Wilfong is a judge, the only one in the 20th circuit covering Randolph County.
Wilfong was elected in 2008 because, among other things, the voters trusted in her judgment, and now she has exhibited what can only be described as extremely poor judgment. How can those who come before Judge Wilfong now have confidence in her sagacity?
The state’s Code of Judicial Conduct says that a judge must “uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary” and “avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.” Sadly, Wilfong has failed to do so.
The matter is now pending before the Judicial Hearing Board. It will decide what penalty, if any, to recommend to the state Supreme Court. They range from a mild rebuke to the suspension of her law license.
In the meantime, she has a duty to do the right thing for the people of Randolph County. Resign and avoid any more embarrassment and to protect the integrity of the judiciary.