CHARLESTON – Despite his departure from the campaign trail nearly six months ago, a former state Supreme Court candidate is feeling the heat from a comment he made while on it.
In May’s primary, Wetzel County attorney H. John Rogers sought the Democratic nomination for one of the two seats for state Supreme Court. However, in a field of six candidates, Rogers placed fifth behind incumbent Justice Robin Jean Davis, Letitia “Tish” Chafin, Greenbrier Circuit Judge James Rowe and Wood Circuit Judge J.D. Beane.
A month prior to the primary election all the candidates, including the two Republicans - Allen Loughery, a Court law clerk, and Jefferson Circuit Judge John Yoder - were invited to an editorial board meeting with The Charleston Daily Mail. Though he did not participate, Rogers was later interviewed via telephone.
In an article published in the Daily Mail’s April 3 edition, Rogers made several comments about issues discussed at the meeting including a proposal by Chafin for the Court to rule on a justice’s refusal to recuse him or herself from a case, and a proposed intermediate appellate court. He called Chafin’s recusal plan “a Band-Aid on cancer,” and an intermediate appellate court would be nothing more than a “welfare program for lawyers.”
The article concluded with Rogers being quoted as referring to Davis and Chafin as “trophy wives.” Their respective husbands, Scott Segal, and H. Truman Chafin, are prominent trial attorneys.
Six days after the article was published, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, the arm of the Court that investigates attorney misconduct, sent Rogers a letter informing him “a complaint has been opened in the name of the Office of Disciplinary Counsel regarding your statements quoted in the article.” Senior Lawyer Disciplinary Counsel Andrea Hinerman informed Rogers he had 20 days to provide a verified response which could not be sent via fax.
In a handwritten response dated April 10, Rogers inquired as the specific nature of Hinerman’s inquiry. Regardless, he said that for ODC to open an ethics investigation into any of the comments he made as a candidate constituted a “chilling effect” on the First Amendment.
In her reply dated April 26, Hinerman said her inquiry was based on “your quoted statement identifying a sitting West Virginia Supreme Court Justice [Davis] and a candidate running in the election for a position on the West Virginia Supreme Court [Chafin] as “‘trophy wives.’” Also, she said ODC would not consider his response as valid until he verified it.
Two days later, Roger had a copy of his original handwritten reply notarized, and submitted it to ODC.
In speaking with The West Virginia Record, Rogers,72, said his comment was not meant to disparage Davis or Chafin, but instead to draw attention to the influence of money in elections.
He said word got back to him that Chafin, 48, was a little miffed about the comment, but Davis, 56, found it flattering.
Currently, he said the complaint has been put on hold pending the Lawyer Disciplinary Board’s decision in a petition for annulment ODC filed against him in February. In its petition, ODC said Rogers pleading no contest last year to charges of false swearing, and malicious application of mental hygiene petition reflected adversely enough on his “honesty, trustworthiness and fitness as a lawyer” to the point that the Court should disbar him.
In addition to contesting ODC’s petition for annulment, Rogers is appealing his conviction.
In regard to the “trophy wives” investigation, Rogers says he expects it to eventually be dismissed. Just as much as it found no merit to an allegation leveled against him nearly 20 years by the late Bob Gould that he made alleged anti-Semitic remarks by sending him a letter written in Hebrew, Rogers said any suggestion he is somehow a misogynist is also without merit.