A hearing to examine abuse-of-power allegations against a West Virginia circuit judge has been delayed until this summer because yet another charge was added this month.
The new charge is that he walked out of Walmart without paying for his items, which is not a big deal in itself except that it occurred while his conduct was already under investigation and wasn’t voluntarily revealed.
Judge Carter Williams — who serves on a circuit that includes Hardy, Hampshire and Pendleton counties — already faced multiple allegations from the Judicial Investigation Commission, a panel that investigates the misconduct of judges.
The initial charges flowed from a particularly bad evening last summer when the judge was accused of berating patrolman and then angrily trying to pull rank with other local officials. Other similar allegations of inappropriately using the clout of his judicial position were aspects of those charges.
Williams’s case was set to go before the Judicial Hearing Board on Feb. 23. He was already facing a range of possible punishment from admonishment to a fine to suspension to loss of his law license. The state Supreme Court has the last word in these cases.
The timeline changed when another charge was filed against the judge on Feb. 14. So now the Judicial Hearing Board will examine the circumstances surrounding Williams’ behavior at 9:30 a.m. June 14 in the Berkeley County Judicial Center in Martinsburg.
The new charge alleges that Williams went astray of compliance with the law, undermined confidence int he judiciary, abused his judicial power, failed to cooperate with disciplinary authorities and ran afoul of the Rules of Professional Conduct.
Williams was already under investigation over the other allegations when, a little after noon last August 18 he left the Moorefield Walmart without paying for 10 or fewer items in his cart.
Moorefield Police Chief Stephen Riggleman went to the Walmart about a month later, Sept. 13, to investigate an unrelated incident involving a different customer. While he was there, the store’s asset protection associate showed the chief a video record of Williams using a self-checkout to scan, bag and place merchandise in his cart.
“Williams is then observed pushing his shopping cart out of the store without making any attempts to pay for the items,” Riggleman wrote in an incident report.
The chief noted in his report that he notified Hardy County Prosecutor Lucas See about the incident and that Williams already faced a judicial investigation.
“Due to this investigation, it was determined that the best course of action would be to contact Williams and direct him to pay for the merchandise,” the chief wrote.
See, the prosecutor, reached out to the judge that same day in text messages that are now part of the investigation’s record. The prosecutor asked if Williams would be around the office, and the judge responded that because there was a covid exposure in his home that he would not be there. So the prosecutor asked to connect by telephone.
In followup messages that Thursday and Friday, the prosecutor confirmed the amount due was $44.21 and made arrangements to pick up a check for Walmart.
All of this was similar to an event that took place July 21, 2020.
In that instance, Williams also left Walmart without paying for items in his cart. That time, the merchandise was valued at $300.
Chief Riggleman had made a note about that situation:
No report generated on who it was. Contacted Carter concerning the matter. Asset protection associate admitted that upon reviewing the incident, Walmart determined it to be accidental and no charges were filed.
Williams was asked about that 2020 incident during the judicial investigation last Oct. 6.
That was three weeks after the August 18, 2021, incident that investigators did not yet know had happened.
Describing the 2020 events, Williams said he had been at the self-checkout, started talking to an acquaintance and got distracted. He remembered taking a receipt but wasn’t sure in retrospect if it was his or a previous customer’s. “And I certainly didn’t intend to take from Walmart,” he said.
Despite the similarities in the instances, neither the judge nor the county prosecutor told judicial investigators about the more recent events.
Investigators interviewed several of the people involved earlier this month. One was the retailer’s loss prevention associate, who stated that on both occasions Judge Williams would scan his merchandise, bag it, put the bags in the cart and “get to talking to somebody and not pay for it before he walks out.”