Raleigh magistrate charged with violating code of judicial conduct

Raleigh County Magistrate Stephen Massie. (Register-Herald file photo)

Raleigh County Magistrate Stephen D. Massie is facing seven charges of violating the code of judicial conduct based on an investigation by the the West Virginia Judicial Investigation Commission.

The seven charges are related to allegations of lying, 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 judicial office, participation in activities that appear to undermine his independence, integrity or impartiality in cases between 2014 and 2019.

In a statement emailed by Massie’s private investigator, James Quesenberry, Massie and his attorneys said the charges are politically motivated.

“Magistrate Massie absolutely denies that he has done anything improper, and we are confident that after a full investigation and hearing on the facts, that he will be exonerated of the rule violations,” the joint statement from Massie and unnamed attorneys says. “These matters seem politically motivated and arising out of his activities supporting veterans and his church ministries.”

Massie also addressed the incident on his personal Facebook page, posting in one comment, “Satan is busy.”

The following incidents

are listed in the document:

On Nov. 13, Raleigh Sheriff’s Deputy F.K. Myers was serving a domestic violence petition to Massie’s assistant magistrate, Donny Plumley. The deputy said that Massie came to Plumley’s house and told the deputy that the accuser was “filing the DVP out of spite and that it should be considered harassment.”

The deputy said he charged the accuser with harassment due to alleged pressure from Massie.

Massie allegedly told state investigators he had been at Plumley’s house just five minutes because he was “concerned with what would happen to Mr. Plumley’s guns in light of the DVP” and that he was there to get keys to the gun safe. He denied that he had pressured Myers to file a harassment charge against the accuser.

Another charge alleges that Massie permitted Plumley to accept citation pleas of no contest or guilty from defendants and to set fines based on a sheet Massie gave him. Massie told investigators he dealt with criminal complaints. State rules that require respondents to see a magistrate “will not work in Raleigh County,” Massie is quoted as saying.

The complaint alleges that on Aug. 11, 2018, state police dispatcher Mark Keaton’s father-in-law died. Massie attends church with the Keatons. After the funeral, Keaton’s wife and his brother-in-law George Norris allegedly got into an altercation, prompting Keaton to grab a gun and run to the house from a few homes away. Once there, Keaton allegedly hit Norris with the gun butt and pushed Norris’ daughter to the ground. Senior Trooper Shane Milam and Trooper First Class Kevin Mollohan arrived, and Massie arrived about 15 minutes later.

“When (Massie) arrived, he spoke briefly with Mr. Keaton,” the complaint states. “He then approached the officers and asked them what was happening.

“Both troopers were surprised that Respondent (Massie) came to the scene.

“According to the troopers, this is the first and last time they’ve ever had a judge come to an active crime scene.”

The complaint alleges that Massie drove Keaton, who was later charged with two misdemeanor counts of battery and one misdemeanor count of brandishing, to the police station. Later, the case was assigned to Massie’s friend and neighbor, former Raleigh Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Ben Hatfield. Massie allegedly told Hatfield that Norris had escalated the argument, and he allegedly stopped Keaton’s defense attorney Robert Goldberg in a court hallway to talk about the case.

Keaton’s case was eventually assigned to Raleigh Magistrate Richard Jones. Jones’ assistant magistrate, Ashley Bailey, said a state police officer, Massie and Hatfield requested that Jones expedite Keaton’s case, with Hatfield and Massie saying that Hatfield was leaving office and wanted to wrap up the case before he left.

After Hatfield resigned, another assistant prosecutor withdrew the favorable plea deal Hatfield had made for Keaton, citing the fact that Massie had driven Keaton to the police station. 

(A footnote states that Raleigh Magistrate Rick Jones in May 2019 sentenced Keaton in a bench trial to 30 days in jail, suspended for unsupervised probation.

The sentencing was very similar to that of the plea deal that Hatfield had offered Keaton.)

In his statement to investigators, Massie denied any improper involvement.

The complaint states that Massie later tried to influence Trooper Mollohan’s testimony to state investigators.

One charge stems from an April 13, 2018, incident involving the now-defunct veteran’s court, which paired veterans with a court team that included volunteers, mentors and judges. Massie, who was on the team, allegedly told state troopers that they could visit veteran Josh O’Dell’s house. O’Dell was a defendant and was obligated by law to let Massie and police into his house. Massie allegedly took the officers to O’Dell’s home at 10 p.m., and officers searched the house. Due to the search, they arrested Larry Ward Jr. for possession of meth. The complaint alleges that Massie admitted to the search and said he had taken police with him at various times to search the houses and that the searches had resulted in arrests.

In December 2014, Massie allegedly visited the house of Keaton’s mother and father, after Keaton’s mother allegedly shot to death Beverly Cooper. Cooper had allegedly tried to break into the Keatons’ Cool Ridge home. Massie went to the house at the request of Keaton’s wife, who attended church with him. Police were present, and Massie entered the house and lingered at the crime scene, due to his church relationship with the Keatons, he said. Raleigh Sheriff’s Office did not press charges, ruling the shooting was in self-defense.

Massie may file a response within 30 days of the complaint.

He was elected in November 2004 and took office in January 2005.

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