Judge Carter Williams took the stand as a defendant in his own ethics hearing today and emphasized that, during a break in the hallway, he had apologized to a patrol officer he is accused of berating at a traffic stop.
“Yesterday, for the first time, out in the hallway during a break, I got to talk to the young man that I was so rude to,” Williams testified today. “For the first time, I got to say I’m sorry. I shook his hand and I said, ‘I’m sorry for this. I’m sorry for all this upset.'”
Williams testified over several hours today, presenting his side of multiple allegations from the Judicial Investigation Commission, a panel that investigates the misconduct of judges. It’s the second day of an examination by the Judicial Hearing Board at the Berkeley County Judicial Center in Martinsburg.
Williams serves on a circuit that includes Hardy, Hampshire and Pendleton counties. 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.
Judicial investigators concluded there is probable cause that Judge Williams engaged in pattern and practice of using his public office for private gain.
The allegations include running afoul of compliance with the law, undermining confidence in the judiciary, eroding the prestige of judicial office, diminishing the ideals of impartiality and fairness and violating codes of judicial and professional conduct.
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.
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.
Williams today acknowledged flying off the handle but denied trying to leverage the authority and prestige of his office.
“From Day 1, I said that my conduct on July 11 last year was unbecoming of a judge. I said it was disrespectful and rude,” he testified.
He later added, “I made a federal case out of it. Just silly. Made a federal case out of it. I’ve regretted it since and tried to make right on it since.”
The traffic stop was recorded on bodycam video. Officer twice asks for license and registration. Williams refuses before finally handing it over. “You just pulled me over for no reason. Pulled me over for no reason. Give me a ticket,” Williams says.
While Johnson was running the license, the judge called Moorefield Police Lieutenant Melody Burrows, who was off duty. This was the first of several instances where Williams referred to Johnson, who is Black, as “your boy.” “Your boy pulled me over for being on my cell phone and I wasn’t on my cell phone,” Williams told Lieutenant Burrows, according to documents in the case.
Shortly after that, the judge called Moorefield Police Chief Stephen Riggleman, who was off duty. The police chief told investigators that the more the judge spoke, the more agitated he got.
The judge then called the town’s former police chief, Steve Reckart.
In relaying his side again, Williams contended that Officer Johnson should not even be a police officer. This was likely a reference to a 2020 allegation wanton endangerment charge against Johnson in Mineral County for an incident that occurred while he was off duty. The charge was dismissed without prejudice that June. Johnson successfully completed a six-month probationary period with the Moorefield Police Department.
Williams told the former chief that the Moorefield Police Department is comprised of a bunch of “boys” and that it is run by a “boy.”
In testimony Tuesday, Reckart recounted “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.”
Again the night of the traffic stop, the judge called Lieutenant Burrows, still irate. Williams told Burrows that he had never been treated so badly as a circuit judge. Burrows told the judicial investigators that Williams couldn’t believe “my boy” wouldn’t take his word for it.
The judge told Burrows that his treatment by Officer Johnson made him question the Moorefield Police cases that had come before him, according to documents and testimony in the case. He described being “sick and tired of Moorefield PD running around like a bunch of thugs, harassing innocent, hard-working people.”
Burrows said the judge then questioned whether “my boy” should still have his police job in light of the earlier allegations in Mineral County.
Williams today described the mindset that led him to use that phrasing and make those accusations.
“I was in fired up mode,” he said. “For whatever reason on that day, I was gonna defend myself, advocate for myself like Custer on his hill, die there. That’s what it felt like. And that was the mode I was in.”
The judge testified that he never said he would change the rulings in his courtroom based on the views he had expressed.
“I never said I was going to change my rulings. Wouldn’t have done that, would never do that,” he said.
The judge testified that the past year of allegations has altered his reputation in the community and hurt his family.
“So yes, my conduct is what it is. It’ll have to be up to someone else,” he said, referring to the hearing board. “But regardless of that and far beyond that, I’ve had to withstand this and be called a racist in this culture and a thief. That’s just about as bad as you can be called. And I am none of those. I’ve never been. I’m a lot of things. I’m not those.
“My actions opened the door for me to be called publicly what I’m not. So my actions did that, yes.”