CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The attorney for suspended Randolph County Circuit Judge Jaymie Wilfong told the state Supreme Court the judge was “seduced and taken advantage of” during a 26-month affair and should be suspended for only 60 days instead of the three years recommended by the state Judicial Hearing Board.
During oral arguments before the five justices, attorney Harry Deitzler said Wilfong was not using the seduction as an excuse but “I don’t think at the time she was involved in the affair she knew the perception of public would be impacted.”
Wilfong’s affair with Travis Carter—at the time the director of the North Central Community Corrections program—included sexual relations in the judge’s office at the Randolph County Courthouse. Wilfong asked two other attorneys for their assistance so she could keep the relationship going.
Deitzler told justices Wilfong realized what she did was wrong but the recommended sanctions go too far.
“There’s no question she should be sanctioned,” Deitzler said. “But to take her job away, to take away her ability to support her family, to fine her an amount that is catastrophically devastating to her (is unfair).”
The Judicial Hearing Board recommended in August that Wilfong be suspended for three years, censured, fined $20,000 and ordered to pay court costs. West Virginia Office of Lawyer Disciplinary Counsel attorney Rachel Cipoletti told the Supreme Court on Tuesday that Wilfong’s actions impacted the day-to-day operations of circuit court.
“When somebody in the courtroom is having an illicit affair and somebody else is covering up the illicit affair, then that person is not being given a fair shake or at least it doesn’t look like it,” Cipoletti argued.
Justice Menis Ketchum called the board’s recommendation a “death penalty.” He said it would essentially keep Wilfong from ever holding the office again. He also questioned the amount of the fine.
Cipoletti countered the Supreme Court needs to send a message.
“The best decision is to hold her fully accountable and make sure the people of our state know that this court understands and appreciates what happened in this case and they will not permit it to happen again,” Cipoletti said.
Deitzler said Wilfong has been a good public servant and asked the court for a 60-day suspension.
“She can’t survive and will never be a judge (if the three-year suspension stands) and she has an excellent record as a judge other than this transgression,” he said.
Wilfong was suspended in May. Her current term ends Dec. 31, 2016.
The Supreme Court will hand down its decision later this year.