G-LtE™: Nominee for the Golden Padlock Award
Investigative Reporters and Editors:
I submit to you what I’m confident will be this year’s hands-down winner of IRE’s inaugural Golden Padlock award. It is the West Virginia Judicial Investigation Commission, and its counsel, Teresa Tarr.
JIC is the arm of the state Supreme Court that investigates allegations of misconduct against justices, circuit and family court judges and magistrates. Last September, I submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to Tarr for the number of complaints filed by year against 27 judicial officers since they came under JIC’s jurisdiction.
My request was largely prompted by two sets of formal ethics charges filed against a family law judge in Putnam County accused of, among other things, showing ill temper toward litigants in his courtroom. In March, the Court voted unanimously to suspend the judge, William M. “Chip” Watkins III, for the remainder of his term.
The purpose of my request was to not only see if Judge Watkins’ misdeeds were well-know to JIC, but also compare the number of complaints against him with some of his peers.
Shortly after receiving my FOIA request, Tarr called and e-mailed me asking me for an extension of time to fulfill. The reasons she gave were an upcoming training conference in Morgantown, and a visit to her mother in Hancock County.
Like a nice guy, I graciously granted her extension.
Later that month, Tarr formally replied to my FOIA request. I was livid when I read her letter.
Buried in her Clintonesque rambling was reference to a decision rendered in Kanawha Circuit Court last May in a FOIA lawsuit The Charleston Gazette filed two years earlier to details on, among other things, the results of use-of-force investigations against state troopers. The judge in that case ultimately denied the request saying making that information public would violate the troopers’ privacy.
After reading the judge’s decision, I wrote back to Tarr pointing out how it did not apply to the information I was seeking. I provided at least three solid reasons why.
First, since they are popularly elected, and are part of a constitutionally created branch of government, judicial officers do not have the same privacy interests as state troopers.
Second, the case, The Charleston Gazette Company v. Col. Timothy Pack – the then-superintendent of the State Police – was not settled law since the Supreme Court had yet to hear it (which it is scheduled to do in the Fall).
Third, in her decision, Judge Bailey said among her concerns in granting the Gazette’s request is that the information they were seeking had never been released before. I pointed out to Tarr that not a week prior to my mine, she granted a request from a citizen-activist in Morgan County who asked for identical information on many of the same judges, including Watkins.
Despite several attempts to persuade her it was in her best interest to release it, Tarr remained steadfast in her refusal to provide me the information. This resulted in me two months ago filing suit in Kanawha Circuit Court against her and JIC to compel them to release the information.
The suit is still pending.
Aside from that, JIC, along with other other agencies under the Court’s jurisdiction – the Board of Law Examiners and the Office of Disciplinary Counsel – about three years ago moved into the top floor of a high-rise office in a upscale part of Charleston about two miles from the statehouse. Access to the suite is restricted as visitors are allowed to enter the elevator only after they’ve been screened by someone in the suite via a camera.
Also, once someone arrives on the floor he or she will find the door to JIC locked, and a sign on the door saying that camera use is prohibited. Anyone wanting information has to speak with the ODC secretary, on another part of the floor, though a glass partition.
I should point out that prior to becoming JIC counsel, Tarr worked at ODC, which investigates ethics complaints against attorneys. Regardless the outcome, all complaints against attorneys are kept in a file open to the public.
Before he became judge, nearly a dozen complaints were filed against Watkins, some of which alleged the same boorish behavior that resulted in his suspension. Once he put on that black rope, the public was not permitted to evaluate him.
The fact that West Virginia citizens are locked out, literally and figuratively, from finding out the most rudimentary of information about their judicial officers is the reason why I’m asking IRE to bestow on JIC and Teresa Tarr the Golden Padlock award. Though I believe I’ve provided a wealth of it, if there’s any information you may need please don’t hesitate to contact me.
Lawrence J. Smith
GFP – 05.28.2013
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Can anyone locate the “key” to Padlock that has been placed on dialogue between the local elected school board and the State Board of Education? Our board is as much in the dark now as when the State Board over threw our board.
Your school board is controlled by the same people that control the courts and control law enforcement.
We have a spinless Sheriff in Gilmer County that will NOT MAKE A MOVE or an ARREST without first calling S. P. of W.O. and G.
Since when did S. P. become the head law man around here? Can anyone answer that question.
Terri Tarr has made some serious legal errors and recently protected Judge Richard A Facemire in a complaint in which he denied making statements showing great bias during the longest running circuit court case in Gilmer County history and had been documented making those statements.
Tarr is a door stop to protect judges like “Chip” Watkins who was recently removed from the bench by the efforts of a Citizens Action group that worked together as a team and who also got the national television attention on the subject so that Watkins and the WV Supreme Court were laughed at and made fun of by millions of Americans.
Those same national news services have also been contacted in regard to the rapes at the college that our sheriff is afraid to investigate, because he was told not to.
Now I ask you, what kind of County govt is that?
I will tell you! The kind of county govt that needs to be exposed to all of America and laughed at and made fun of.
It seems to be the only thing that works to capture the corrupt and put them out of business in the state of WV.
Did someone put a “$gold$“ padlock on the Doug Morris arrests in Calhoun County?
Drugs? Speeding? Evading the Trooper?
Nothing will happen with the Glenville State College rape cover ups. Money is a voice silencer.
There are a couple people in Gilmer who have helpful information, if they are hunted and contacted.
Well actually, we stepped into to CHANGE that this time, for AMANDA SMITH filed a lawsuit against the college and against her rapists and YES, another mention of the GSC football team, and the latest sexual assault was just a couple of months ago, the last one reported, and the last RAPE not reported to police was just a couple of weeks ago.
In my opinion anonymous you are PATHETIC, for your mention, and heaven help the next rapist that is even accused, for we have decided to step in at the mere even mention of a sexual assault on the campus of GSC and WE WILL step in, and then make our own arrests if necessary while bringing the campus police up on charges.
I am going so far as to say, we are working on bringing a rape complaint against a high ranking member of the campus police sometime soon.
Now what I would like to find out is WHO in the heck YOU might be, for saying what you did.
By Council of Concerned Citizens on 05.30.2013
From the entry: ‘G-LtE™: Nominee for the Golden Padlock Award‘.