Web site publisher files complaint against Putnam magistrate

By Lawrence Smith | Nov 8, 2007

Putnam County Magistrate Kim Blair, left, with her husband, former Putnam County Commissioner Jim Caruthers.

WINFIELD – The publisher of a Putnam County news Web site has filed an ethics complaint against a Putnam magistrate alleging she used her office to retaliate against him for publishing an unflattering article about her and her husband, a former county commissioner.

On Nov. 7, Mark V. Hallburn, owner of PutnamLive.com, filed a complaint against Putnam Magistrate Kim Blair with the state Judicial Investigation Commission. In his complaint, Hallburn alleges that Blair failed to recuse herself from a criminal case filed against him earlier this year by a contractor for telephone harassment.

In doing so, Hallburn maintains Blair, among other things, created an "improper interference with the press," and should be suspended for it.

Conflict surfaces during campaign

Specifically, Hallburn maintains that the conflict between he and Blair started on Oct. 10, 2006. It was during a candidate forum co-sponsored by the Putnam Chamber of Commerce and Rotary Club that Hallburn attempted to question James H. "Jim" Caruthers, a county commissioner seeking re-election, about the affair he had with Blair while still married to his first wife, Honey.

According to his complaint, Hallburn says he was interviewing Caruthers to confirm allegations about not only about the affair, but also the existence of a letter Honey Caruthers wrote asking Jim be barred from attending her funeral. The interview was "rudely interrupted by Blair" upon posing questions about the affair, Hallburn says.

In an article published shortly after the forum, Hallburn was able to confirm the existence of the letter via Honey Caruthers' mother, Rosie Reid. According to that article, Reid said Honey was angered to find out that while she was fighting cancer, Jim was having an affair with Blair.

In the course of filing for divorce, Honey Caruthers asked that Jim not be permitted to attend her funeral. According to the article, Honey Caruthers lost her battle with cancer, and Jim later married Blair.

In his article, Hallburn says he asked Jim Caruthers if he would allow the media access to his divorce case. Caruthers first replied, "I don't have the file," and later said, "Don't get in my face ... I don't deal with you" when Hallburn pressed for a answer.

Hallburn then filed a Freedom of Information Act request with Putnam Family Law Judge William H."Chip" Watkins III to release the letter. Citing Rule 6(a) of the state Rules for Practice and Procedure for Family Court, Watkins denied Hallburn's request.

Caruthers, a Republican who was seeking a fifth term as commissioner, would lose to Democratic challenger Gary O. Tillis, business manger for the West Virginia Laborer's Council and former Putnam County delegate, in last November's election.

Arrest warrant signed

About two months later, Hallburn says in his complaint, the conflict between he, Blair and Caruthers continued.

On Jan. 10, Mark David Koon, an employee of Cleveland Construction, filed a criminal complaint against Hallburn for telephone harassment. In his complaint, Koon, who at the time was the supervisor for the Mentor, Ohio-based construction firm's Wal-Mart Super Center project currently taking place near Hallburn's home, alleged Hallburn made repeated telephone calls to him after being told not to do so.

In a subsequent lawsuit he filed against Cleveland Construction, Hallburn maintains he called Koon only twice to confirm allegations they were using an unlicensed blaster on the project. Each time, Hallburn says in his suit, Koon hung up on him without making a comment.

Nevertheless, the magistrate to whom Koon presented his complaint was Blair. Instead of recuse herself from the matter, she signed a warrant for Hallburn's arrest on the sole complaint of telephone harassment, a misdemeanor.

According to court records, the Hurricane Police Department served the warrant on Hallburn around 1 a.m. Jan. 11. After being taken to the Western Regional Jail in Barboursville for processing, Hallburn was held in custody for over eight hours before being arraigned and released on a $600 personal recognizance bond.

In April, Hallburn was found not guilty of the charge when Putnam Magistrate Kylene Dunlap Brown found the state failed to meet its burden of proof.

Because she did not recuse herself from the case, Hallburn alleges in his complaint that Blair failed to be "neutral and impartial." In addition this, and interfering with his interview with Caruthers, Hallburn asked the Commission to suspend Blair for committing adultery while in office.

As of presstime, Blair was unavailable for comment.

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