CHARLESTON – For the second time in as many months, the publisher of a Putnam County news Web site has filed an ethics complaint against a Putnam judicial officer alleging, among other things, interference with the press.
On Monday, Dec. 3, Mark V. Halburn, publisher of PutnamLive.com, filed a complaint against Putnam Circuit Judge N. Edward Eagloski with the state Judicial Investigation Commission. The Commission is the arm of the state Supreme Court that investigates allegations of wrong-doing committed by judicial officers including circuit judges.
In his complaint, Halburn alleges that Eagloski not only precluded him from taking photographs during a high-profile child abuse case, but also accused Halburn of attempting to influence the outcome of legal matter before Eagloski by calling his sister, a state delegate.
Specifically, Halburn alleges that during a pre-trial hearing in the Michael Merrifield case on Sept. 19, 2006, Eagloski "instructed his bailiff to tell me (in front of my peers) that I was not allowed to photograph the judge." Later, Halburn alleges that Eagloski "gave me the same instructions in front of my peers who were allowed to photograph (and did photograph) Eagloski during the hearing."
"This," says Halburn "is an inappropriate and unethical case of discrimination against a member of the media without provocation."
According to his compliant, Halburn had another run-in with Eagloski. This time concerning a writ of mandamus he filed with the court to for the city of Hurricane to begin enforcing its excessive noise ordinance.
In his writ, which he later dropped and refiled as an injunction, Halburn alleged despite repeated requests, city officials failed to take any action against "excessive noise" coming from the construction to Wal-Mart Supercenter project near his home.
A day after Halburn filed the Writ on June 25, Putnam Circuit Judge O.C. "Hobby" Spaulding, who initially was assigned the case, recused himself citing an unflattering article Halburn wrote about him on PutnamLive.com. The case was then assigned to Eagloski.
On July 3, Eagloski would recuse himself saying Halburn attempted to "intimidate" him into scheduling a hearing my making demands on his staff and family including Del. Patti Eagloski Schoen (R-Putnam), Eagloski's sister.
According to his complaint, Halburn says any communication between he and Schoen were done in the context of a constituent asking his representative to consider sponsoring a statewide noise abatement bill. Schoen, along with all other members of Putnam County's legislative delegation were contacted about the bill several months prior to filing his writ, Halburn said.
"Judge Eagloski's false allegation of intimidation is a fraudulent and unethical smokescreen to vainly try to cover his failure to set a hearing date for my Writ of Mandamus against the city of Hurricane," Halburn said in his complaint.
"Judge Eaglowkski's continued unethical behavior," Halburn added "steps on my First Amendment rights both as a journalist, and my First Amendment rights to redress my government for grievances."
Another complaint pending
In addition to his complaint against Eagloski, Halburn has pending complaint against Magistrate Kim Blair. In the complaint filed Nov. 7, Halburn alleged Blair created an "improper interference with the press" when she used her office to retaliate against him for publishing an unflattering article about her and her husband, former county commissioner Jim Caruthers.
About a month prior to last year's election, Halburn published an article about an affair Caruthers had with Blair while married to his first wife, Honey. Caruthers would not provide Halburn with straight answers, and subsequently lost his bid for re-election.
Earlier this year on Jan. 10, Mark David Koon, a former supervisor for Cleveland Construction, the general contractor for the Wal-Mart project, filed a criminal complaint of telephone harassment against Halburn alleging he made repeated telephone calls to Koon's office after being told not to. The complaint was presented to Blair, who instead of recusing herself, signed a warrant for Halburn's arrest.
In April, Halburn was found not guilty of the charge when Putnam Magistrate Kylene Dunlap Brown found the state failed to meet its burden of proof.
Eagloski was not immediately available for comment on Halburn's complaint against him.