Suspended Nicholas County judge takes his seat in February

NICHOLAS COUNTY, W.Va. — The two-year suspension of Nicholas County Circuit Judge Stephen Callaghan ends next month.

His first day on the bench in Nicholas County is scheduled for February 11, according to a Nicholas County court official.

Judge Stephen Callaghan

Senior Status Judge James Rowe, who’s been sitting by temporary appointment in the 28th Judicial Circuit, wraps up his work in Nicholas County on Feb. 8.

In February 2017, the state Supreme Court suspended Judge Callaghan for two years without pay because of a political flyer his campaign used during the 2016 judicial election campaign season.

The controversial flyer falsely claimed Callaghan’s opponent, longtime Nicholas County Circuit Judge Gary Johnson who served on the bench for 23 years, had been partying a the White House with President Barack Obama.

Judge Callaghan beat Judge Johnson by just more than 220 votes.

It was Johnson’s son who filed an ethics complaint against Callaghan that claimed Callaghan had violated the Judicial Code of Conduct.

Before the case made it to the state Supreme Court, the West Virginia Judicial Hearing Board identified three violations.

In part, Callaghan’s attorney argued the Constitution protected his client’s free speech rights.

Those on the state Supreme Court disagreed.

“Based on this Court’s independent review of the record, we find that clear and convincing evidence of improper conduct has been presented in support of each of the violations found by the Board and that Judge-Elect Callaghan’s constitutional arguments afford him no relief,” the West Virginia Supreme Court found at the time.

In addition to his suspension without pay, a $15,000 fine was recommended and Callaghan was reprimanded as an attorney.

The decision came from an acting Supreme Court.

All five elected justices at that time recused themselves from the case because, beginning in early 2017, Johnson was hired as administrative director for the state Supreme Court.

Last June, Johnson resigned from that position.

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