Raleigh County Magistrate Stephen Massie announced on Friday that he is resigning from his position as magistrate.
Although Massie’s name appears on the May ballot as a candidate for Raleigh magistrate against Stephanie French, he said that he will not accept the office if he wins the election.
Massie reported that he had submitted a letter of resignation to Raleigh County Circuit Court Judge Andrew Dimlich on Friday morning.
“It’s been brought to my attention by the West Virginia Judicial Investigation Commission (JIC), according to their interpretations of the rules of judicial conduct, some of my actions and service to the one true living God, Jesus Christ, presents an appearance of impropriety and violates their rules,” said Massie. “When faced with the question of the court or God, Mark 12:17 is very clear in what to do.
“It says, ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.’”
Massie said his resignation will allow him to pursue ministry at his church to veterans without the restrictions that the JIC endorses for magistrates.
Earlier this month, Massie had been suspended without pay by West Virginia Supreme Court Chief Justice Tim Armstead. The court did not specifically cite the reason for Massie’s suspension but wrote in the order that “there is probable cause to believe the respondent has engaged or is currently engaging in serious violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct.”
The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Judicial Investigation Committee had charged Massie with seven counts of violating the judicial conduct code. The charges stemmed from a series of alleged incidents related in the charges.
In November, Massie’s attorney, John McCuskey of Charleston, had asked the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals to dismiss the charges of ethics violations.
It was unclear Friday if the seven charges outlined in October were related to Massie’s suspension in March.
McCuskey said Friday that the JIC position is that Massie “gave the appearance that he was acting as a magistrate when he was doing something” as “part of his faith.”
“They basically said, ‘You can’t do that. You can’t even have the appearance of having your church involved in your magisterial duties,” McCuskey reported. “Steve always believed he was on the right side of that very fine line.
“He believed that if you have to side with one or the other, he has to go with his faith, and his veterans’ ministry.”
On Friday, Massey addressed one of the incidents outlined in the charges.
On that charge, the JIC alleges that Massie intervened in an Aug. 11, 2018, incident following the funeral of state police dispatcher Mark Keaton’s father-in-law. 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 1st Class Kevin Mollohan arrived, and Massie arrived about 15 minutes later.
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 and later intervened inappropriately to attempt to get favorable treatment for Keaton.
In the complaint, Massie said he had been a family counselor to the Norris family and had been asked to go to the home as a counselor. He said he had asked the pastor to go to the home, prior to arriving there. He said he did not speak to Keaton individually but “ministered to Norris’ widow for 20 to 30 minutes.” He said he was not acting as a magistrate or judge in the incident.
He denied staying with Keaton at the police department and said he was not privy to officers’ communications. He also denies intervening in legal proceedings later, contradicting what the Commission reported as testimony by Keaton’s defense attorney, Raleigh Magistrate Rick Jones and Jones’ clerk.
The complaint charges that Massie later tried to influence Trooper Mollohan’s testimony to state investigators. Massie denied the charge.
Massie said Friday that he had been acting as a representative of his church and ministering when he went to the Keatons’ home.
“I’ve been ministering to a World War II veteran through our veterans’ ministry at church for about two years,” said Massie. “He got to the point where he was unable to come to the church. I went to his home for about a year or so.
“I ministered to his wife and him there.”
Massie said that he had a call that alerted him that the veteran had died. He said he and his wife had gone to the hospital and then to the funeral. An hour after the funeral, he said, a caller told him that there was a conflict at the home of the man’s widow.
“They wanted to know if we could come,” Massie said. “I called the pastor and said, ‘I’m going to go over there. Would you like to come and meet with me?’”
Massie said there were two parties in the yard when he arrived.
“I went in the house and spoke with the widow, made sure she was OK,” said Massie. “They (JIC) determined it was a mistake because I’m always a magistrate.
“I went to the scene of a crime, and that gave the appearance of impropriety.”
McCuskey said the visit was turned into a charge against Massie.
“That’s the kind of thing he doesn’t want to have to deal with anymore, and he would come down on the side of being able to help the veterans who are part of his ministry and his church,” said the attorney.
An attorney with The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), a politically conservative organization that, according to its website, “engages legal, legislative and cultural issues by implementing an effective strategy of advocacy, education and litigation that includes representing clients before the Supreme Court of the United States,” assisted McCuskey on Massie’s case, McCuskey said.
“This is a matter that really infringes upon religious freedom, and that’s why Steve was willing to fight it and hire our law firm to represent him,” said McCuskey.
Other charges were as follows:
— On Nov. 13, 2018, 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 woman was “filing the DVP out of spite and that it should be considered harassment.” The deputy said he charged the woman with harassment due to alleged pressure from Massie. Massie said he had been only a few minutes at Plumley’s house because he was concerned about what would happen to Plumley’s guns.
Massie denied interacting with Myers or pressuring him to file a charge against the woman and said that the harassment charge had been made based on Myers’ interview of Plumley.
— 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 denied that he ever directed Plumley to “take pleas” and said he did not violate any defendant’s rights.
— One charge stems from an April 13, 2018, incident involving veterans’ court, which pairs veterans with a court team that included volunteers, mentors and judges. Massie, who was appointed to the team by Raleigh Circuit Judge Andrew Dimlich, 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. Following 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 his response, Massie said no search warrant had been requested by police. He said that he and an officer went to O’Dell’s house. Massie denied he knocked on O’Dell’s door. He said O’Dell was told an unannounced search was being conducted as part of his veterans’ court agreement. Massie also said that he had been present for similar searches in veterans’ homes based on directives from Judge Dimlich.