CHARLESTON – Recently out of the hospital and defeated in the primary election, Cabell County Magistrate Alvie Qualls listened from his wheelchair as his attorney pleaded with the state Supreme Court to let her client remain on the bench.
The Court on May 21 heard a recommendation of involuntary retirement for Qualls from the Judicial Investigation Commission.
A former assistant filed ethics charges against Qualls last year, claiming he had made sexually harassing comments to her and other courthouse employees.
Also, an investigation by Office of Disciplinary Counsel found "a sad but troubling litany of statements which declare that the Respondent is simply unable to continue to perform his judicial duties because of his failing physical and mental capabilities."
"Circuit court judges who have known the Respondent for many years and many of whom consider him a good friend have stated this position," ODC counsel Charles Garten wrote. "Associates who work with him daily and assist him in conducting court have indicated his inability to continue.
"While this is a depressing and perhaps not befitting culmination of the Respondent's long career, this Court has said many times that the purpose of judicial disciplinary proceedings is the preservation and enhancement of public confidence in the honor, integrity, dignity and efficiency of the members of the judiciary and the system of justice."
The Supreme Court of Appeals suspended Qualls with pay March 24. He makes about $50,000 a year. Still, the 78-year-old Qualls refused to retire, denying he said anything wrong, and ran for re-election.
In the Democratic primary May 13, Qualls was defeated while he lied in a hospital bed. He was released from St. Mary's Medical Center on May 14.
The complaint said Qualls made crude references to Snake Road and needing a gallon of Viagra to keep up with a female courthouse employee.
Qualls also slipped in performance of his duties, according to Garten. His current assistant testified that Qualls did not concentrate well and she often had to repeat things to him at hearings. She said he had trouble following conversations of police and attorneys.
Garten also said Qualls lived at the courthouse for a few days. One night, a security guard found him on the floor and helped him back into his wheelchair.
That Friday, his assistant arrived at work to find him in pajamas.
"She brought him some food and his niece also brought him some food," Garten wrote. "Societal order rests upon the public's respect and obedience of court orders and decrees which are dependent upon a perception and belief that the court is independent and honorable in its conduct."
At the May 21 hearing, Qualls' attorney Sherri Goodman said the Court should stick to the facts of the sexual harassment complaint.
"Magistrate Qualls wants a hearing on the issues that really are here," she said. "My client is competent and can make his own decisions."
Goodman said the only thing Qualls is guilty of is being stubborn.
"Magistrate Qualls was getting it from all sides," Goodman told the Justices. "His wive moved out. He was in and out of the hospital."
Chief Justice Spike Maynard questioned Goodman about reports that Qualls lived in his courthouse office and wore pajamas to court proceedings.
"He lived in the office for two days," Goodman said. "And he wore what he calls lounge pants and a Marshall University shirt. But he never appeared in court that way."
Maynard also questioned her about how Qualls allegedly doesn't concentrate well during hearings and slurs his words.
"Don't you think litigants have a right to a hearing officer who can concentrate and do his own paperwork?" the Chief Justice asked.
"Sure," she replied. "Since he came back from his fall, he has maintained a full schedule. He's present. You have some members of the (Circuit) Court trying to get rid of him.
"Magistrate Qualls is stubborn and he is a very determined individual."
"The people who have told us about the respondent's condition don't want to hurt him," he said. "They've known him for years. But they have a responsibility that the court system is fair and works."