The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals has charged a Raleigh County Family Court judge of 26 years with at least seven alleged violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct, after she admitted to visiting the home of litigants to investigate a property dispute.
The SCOA formally charged Judge Louise E. Goldston on Sept. 23 with violations to rules on compliance with the law, confidence in the judiciary, avoiding abuse of prestige of office, impartiality and fairness, external influences, competence, diligence and cooperating and extrajudicial activities, in general.
Goldston hears cases in Raleigh Family Court and Wyoming County Family Court.
The allegations arise from a Raleigh County case involving Matthew Gibson, who appeared before Goldston on March 4 for a contempt hearing. Goldston was hearing a complaint by Gibson’s spouse that Gibson had damaged the couple’s marital property and had failed to turn over some sentimental possessions. The court had previously ordered Gibson to turn over those items, according to court documents.
During the hearing, Goldston asked for Gibson’s address. After Gibson gave her the address, the judge stopped the hearing and ordered Gibson and his wife to meet her at Gibson’s house in 10 minutes.
Gibson, a federal law enforcement agent, did not have an attorney and was representing himself. In court documents, he said that he did not object to the impromptu meeting because Goldston did not explain why she had ordered it.
At the Gibson residence, however, Gibson objected and stated that Goldston was now a potential witness in his case. Goldston dismissed the objection as untimely.
Gibson then told Goldston he was denying anyone entrance to the house until a search warrant was presented. Goldston threatened to put him in jail.
A witness recorded the interactions outside the home, and the video was widely shared on social media, including Facebook. In addition, court documents state, Gibson made a recording.
The judge ordered that Gibson and the witness stop recording, but a bailiff used his cell to record video and audio.
The Judicial Disciplinary Counsel opened a complaint against Goldston on March 11. Gibson filed a second complaint on March 18, court documents show.
Goldston admitted that she did not notify Gibson of the purpose of the visit on March 4 and that he did not have an opportunity to object while he was in the courtroom.
She stated that she had held similar meetings at litigants’ home in about 11 cases over the years and that she believed it was appropriate. She did not offer a statute or rule that gave family court judges authority to visit the homes of litigants. According to court documents, she had not entered orders after making the home visits to explain what she had done and never took a court reporter to the houses with her. She admitted that such visits had the potential to make her a witness in future court proceedings, which would disqualify her from hearing those cases.
In all of the other cases, according to Goldston, attorneys for one of the parties had made motions for home visits, and opposing attorneys did not object. The attorneys and litigants also understood the purpose of the visit, according to court documents.
Goldston is the second Raleigh judge to face disciplinary action from the state’s highest court this year.
In June, former Raleigh Magistrate Steve Massie agreed to pay $1,000 fine, $3,654 in court costs, to never serve as a judge and to wait 10 years before running for public office.
Massie entered the agreement after facing charges in October 2019 related to using public office for private gain, allowing social relationships to influence or appear to influence judicial proceedings, abusing or appearing to abuse the prestige of the office, participating in activities that appear to undermine independence or impartiality between 2014 and 2019 and another, sealed complaint filed in March.
He stated that the charges were religious prosecution in connection to his activities with veterans at his church.