Two Kanawha County magistrates publicly admonished by judicial panel

The West Virginia Judicial Investigation Commission publicly admonishes Kanawha County Magistrates Tim Halloran and Brent Hall in separate cases. (WCHS/WVAH)

The Judicial Investigation Commission of West Virginia has publicly admonished two Kanawha County magistrates.

Documents from the commission show that the panel in separate cases admonished Magistrate Tim Halloran on Nov. 2 and Magistrate Brent Hall on Oct. 31.

In the Halloran case, a complaint filed by Mark Halburn claimed the magistrate failed to give him a requested jury trial in violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct. The Judicial Investigation Commission alleged that Halloran inappropriately publicly endorsed a candidate for appointment for magistrate and improperly commented on an impending matter in violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct.

On April 28, 2016, Halburn was charged in Kanawha County with the misdemeanor offense of telephone harassment. The complaint said an attorney on Sept. 15, 2016, filed a motion and asked for a speedy trial. Halloran in a bench trial on June 8, 2017, found Halburn guilty of the crime charged and sentenced him to a $500 fine and six months in jail.

Halburn filed an ethics complaint against Halloran on July 5, 2017, that was presented to the Judicial Investigation Commission. The commission said it sent two separate requests to Halloran, asking him to respond to the allegations within 10 days. It said Halloran finally replied after it sent a second request, but failed to respond to the allegations about why he failed to give Halburn a jury trial despite a request to do so.

The commission said on July 21, 2017, Halloran’s assistant, Melanie Rucker, sent a letter to Chief Kanawha Circuit Judge Jennifer Bailey, asking to be appointed to the magistrate position left vacant when Julie Yeager resigned after she was accused of embezzlement. No formal charges have been filed against Yeager.

The commission said Halloran sent a letter to Bailey asking her to appoint Rucker to the vacant position. They said Halloran stated, “Ms. Rucker was a candidate for magistrate in the 2016 election coming in second to Julie Yeager. Did Ms. Yeager use stolen money to help her win? Further investigation is needed to answer this question.”

In Hall’s case, the complaint was filed by the Judicial Disciplinary Counsel, alleging that Hall commented on a pending case in violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct.

The commission said that during the afternoon hours of Sept. 5, 2017, Tracie Williams was arrested on felony charges of financial exploitation of the elderly, obtaining money by false pretenses, conspiracy, forgery and computer fraud for allegedly forging her dying mother’s will to receive more than $1 million.

Hall arraigned Williams on the charges in Kanawha County magistrate court. The commission said at some point, Hall posted on his Facebook page a still photo of a video a TV station had aired on Williams’ initial court appearance. The caption underneath the photo read: “Police: Woman Exploits Over One Million Dollars From Dying Mom” and the news logo appeared to the right of the heading. The commission said Hall’s post elicited several negative posts from members of the public, including “(h)ang ‘em high Brent.”

The comments also included statements from people supporting Hall’s handling of the arraignment, the commission said.

Hall responded in a letter on Sept. 11, 2017, and denied the allegations. He said he did not make any comment about a pending matter.

“I have posted a still photo shot of myself without any comment, opinion, or statement. I ask that this complaint be dismissed,” Hall’s statement said.

Several other Kanawha County magistrates have recently faced troubles.

In July, Yeager, who has been on the bench for more than 13 years, resigned in the midst of an investigation of allegations over the embezzlement of the embezzlement of $14,000 from the Magistrate Court Association. She was facing a suspension following an investigation by the Judicial Disciplinary Counsel.

In August, a panel of judges ruled that Kanawha County Magistrate Jack Pauley should be formally charged with multiple violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct.

The West Virginia Judicial Investigation Commission found probable cause to make multiple charges against Pauley including the approval of a domestic violence petition without knowing details of the case in August 2016.

The AP contributed to this report

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