Wayne County magistrate faces ethics charges
CHARLESTON — A Wayne County, West Virginia, magistrate who admitted to violating trout fishing laws is now the target of formal charges by the Judicial Investigation Commission. The formal charges against Magistrate David E. Ferguson stem from a complaint filed by Capt. Terry Ballard of the Natural Resources Police.
Ballard’s complaint resulted from an interaction between Ferguson and two members of the Division of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Section on Feb. 21, 2017.
The complaint against Ferguson stated two members of the Natural Resources Police were working undercover at the East Lynn Lake spillway in Wayne County where the DNR had recently stocked trout. The officers were observing anglers at the lake and watching for fishing law violations.
Court documents indicate Ferguson approached Natural Resources Police Officer Jacob Miller, not knowing him, and said, “Hey, you need to watch out. There’s some game wardens around here somewhere.”
DNR Cpl. Larry Harvey was also working under cover and observed Ferguson and his father, who is a former Wayne County magistrate, and a third unidentified individual as they fished. According to the complaint, Harvey watched Ferguson continue to catch trout for two hours and exceed the daily creel limit. Court documents claimed Ferguson would catch trout in excess of the limit and instead of releasing them, “broke their necks and placed them back in the water near his feet.”
Miller intercepted the trio as they were leaving the lake, identified himself as a Natural Resources police officer and asked for their identification and fishing license. He also told the group rather than embarrass them in front of other anglers, he would walk to their truck to discuss the observed violations. At the truck, Ferguson provided his driver’s license, fishing license and his Supreme Court ID.
Harvey soon arrived at the truck and sent Miller back to the lake and began the citation procedure. Harvey told the three men to stay at their truck while he retrieved paperwork from a nearby picnic table. When he returned, the third man was gone and the number of trout in Ferguson’s truck was now within the legal limit. When asked where the third individual had gone, Ferguson and his father refused to acknowledge there had been a third individual and furthermore claimed there was no proof they had exceeded the legal number of trout caught.
Harvey indicated both men became belligerent and threatening as he wrote and delivered the citation. He said Ferguson repeatedly asked who he needed to contact to “have this ticket taken care of.”
“You do what you need to do, but Fm telling you right now, this ain’t going nowhere,” Ferguson told the officers, according to court documents.
Ferguson was charged by Harvey with misdemeanors of exceeding the daily creel limit for trout and exceeding the possession limit for trout in Wayne County Magistrate Court. He pleaded guilty to the creel limit violation and in exchange the possession limit violation was dropped. Ferguson was fined $50.
The Judicial Investigation Commission this week formally charged Ferguson with three violations of the Judicial Code of Conduct. Those include failure to comply with the law, confidence in the judiciary, and cooperation with disciplinary authorities.
The complaint stated that when questioned under oath about the complaint filed by Ballard, Ferguson lied to the JIC counsel. Court documents indicate he lied about whether he tipped off Miller about an undercover DNR investigation and about the third man with them during initial questioning by Natural Resources Police. The formal charges add he lied about his conduct while interacting with the officers, and about communications with fellow Wayne County Magistrate Billy Dell Runyon about the JIC investigation.
Ferguson is entitled to a hearing on the charges before a Judicial Disciplinary Panel.