Flood trial judge tells attorneys to talk to clients after threatening call

By Steve Korris | Apr 6, 2007

BECKLEY – After a woman vented anger at a Raleigh County courthouse secretary, Circuit Judge John Hutchison warned attorneys in four firms to tell their clients that this type of communication was inappropriate.

Hutchison suspects the call came from a plaintiff in litigation over a storm that flooded southern West Virginia in 2001. Hutchison recently set aside a jury verdict holding a timber company, Western Pocahontas Properties, liable for flood damage.

In his order setting aside the verdict, he admitted that he made errors that exposed jurors to "junk science" and wrote that he should not have allowed jurors to hear testimony from witnesses that plaintiffs identified as experts.

On March 22, a secretary answered a phone call from a woman who said Hutchison admitted he did not know how to do his job.

The caller said he did not need to be re-elected and then asked if judges could accept gratuities.

The secretary wrote a summary and gave it to Hutchison.

He composed a letter to Stewart Calwell of the Calwell Practice in Charleston, David Cecil of James F. Humphreys and Associates of Charleston, Scott Segal of the Segal Law Firm in Charleston and Randolph McGraw of McGraw Law Offices in Prosperity.

"This Judge believes this communication to be a threat against this Judge for his official acts in the flood litigation case," he wrote in the letter, adding that the reference to gratuities "equates to being bought off.

"By the way, I categorically deny this allegation."

Hutchison wrote that caller ID showed an initial and a last name but no number. He said he turned the information over to the sheriff.

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