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Judge is now a defendant over allegations that he crossed ethical lines after traffic stop

Judge Charles Carl, serving as a witness instead of in his usual role, testified that he was surprised by what he saw in a video of his colleague, Judge Carter Williams, at a traffic stop.

“Well, first off, I would say it was out of character for how I know him,” Carl said during a hearing of the Judicial Hearing Board in Martinsburg.

“Angry. Agitated. That’s not how I perceive him. That’s not how he acts in court. I just thought he had a bad day.”

Judge Carter Williams

Judge Carter Williams — who serves on a circuit that includes Hardy, Hampshire and Pendleton counties — faces 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. Another charge that he walked out of Walmart without paying for his items was later added.

He faces 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 Judicial Hearing Board has been examining the circumstances surrounding Williams’ behavior at the Berkeley County Judicial Center in Martinsburg. Testimony lasted most of the day Tuesday and is set to continue again at 9 a.m. Wednesday.

Williams won election to an eight-year term on the bench in 2016 after a long legal career in private practice and with the state Attorney General’s Office. He would next be up for re-election in 2024.

His colleague, Judge Carl, was among those to take the stand. Carl is from Hampshire County and is chief of the circuit that also includes the court where Williams serves.

“He has a lot of integrity and pride. He’s a good man. That was out of character, as far as I’m concerned,” Carl testified.

Scrutiny began July 11, 2021, when Williams went out for ice cream with his family, started to drive home, picked up a cell phone he had dropped, got pulled over by Moorefield Police Officer Deavonta Johnson for having the phone in his hand while driving, berated the patrolman, and called multiple local officials, including the patrolman’s supervisor while the traffic stop was still going on.

“I don’t think he was using his position as a judge to ‘Hey, I’m a judge; don’t give me a ticket,'” Carl testified. “I think he was intent on showing he didn’t violate any law, and I think if he’d had time to reflect on it — wouldn’t have done that.”

Moorefield’s former police chief, Steve Reckhart took a call from Judge Williams at home the night of the traffic stop.

“He was upset, agitated, and began to tell me about events that had just occurred,” Reckhart testified today. “He was upset with one of the officers, Officer Johnson, because he stopped him for a cell phone violation and went on to elaborate about the cell phone and how it happened to be there. Then he began to tell me about the frustrations with the Moorefield Police Department.”

Reckhart also recalled “the fact that he was expressing his displeasure in some of the criminal cases that were being brought to his court and advised that he had some leeway in some of those cases but that he might look at them tighter in the future.”

Moorefield Mayor Carol Zuber testified that Judge Williams went to her home about 10 p.m. the night of the traffic stop.

“He was upset,” Zuber recalled. “He said, ‘You know I really hate to do this to you, but you’ll have to do something with the police officers’ and then proceeded to tell me that he was pulled over because they accused him of holding his cell phone, talking on his cell phone.”

She continued, “He made the indication that all of my officers, that I needed to straighten them up. He said they were a bunch of young men, that they were kids.”

Former Circuit Judge Donald Cookman, who served on the same circuit where Williams and Carl preside, earlier in his career was chairman of the Judicial Investigation Commission. As the allegations about how Williams had behaved swirled through the community, local officials had turned to Cookman for advice.

Cookman testified today that what he saw on the video created an impression.

“I was shocked. I was shocked. I’d known Judge Williams for a number of years, actually knew him as an attorney,” Cookman said. “He’s always very respectful, and I was surprised and shocked.”

Cookman testified, “I was concerned that it might be a violation of judicial ethics.”

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