Lewis County man wants ethics panel to reconsider complaint

By Lawrence Smith | Nov 19, 2012

CHARLESTON – A Lewis County businessman says a state ethics panel did not take seriously his complaint against two Tucker County judicial officers.

In a letter dated Oct. 11, Jerry L. Burkhammer asked the state Judicial Investigation Commission to reconsider its decision to dismiss his complaint against Magistrate Carol Irons and Judge Philip B. Jordan, Jr. In his letter, Burkhammer, 71 and a Weston salvage dealer, said the grounds on which JIC, the arm of the state Supreme Court that investigates judicial misconduct, used to dismiss it is proof that “the Commission didn’t even bother to read my complaint.”

Nearly two years ago Burkhammer filed his complaint against Irons and Jordan alleging they failed to recuse themselves from hearing criminal charges that were brought against him in 2007 for violation of a court order and attempt to commit conspiracy. Their prior actions and statements, Burkhammer said, created a conflict of interest.

In his complaint, Burkhammer alleged Irons’ conflict was created when she, while in her term as sheriff, served as a bailiff during some of the abuse and neglect hearings involving his daughter, Lindsay Brooke. Following an allegation leveled by Lindsay’s mother, Sheryl L. Conner-Kines, in 2002 that Burkhammer molested Lindsay, Jordan determined Burkhammer was an unfit parent and terminated his parental rights.

Eventually, Jordan ordered Burkhammer to have no contact with Lindsay and not enter Tucker County until she turns 18 years old in 2014.

Also, Burkhammer said in his complaint that sometime after her election as magistrate, and prior to his arrest, he confided to Irons how he felt he was being unfairly treated by the Tucker County judicial system. This included Jordan referring to him as pedophile during one of the abuse and neglect hearings despite his lack of a conviction or arrest on any related charges.

In his complaint, Burkhammer said neither Irons, when his case came to trial in July 2008, nor Jordan, when he appealed his conviction on the violation charge a few weeks later to circuit court, had any business presiding over his case. A motion his court-appointed attorney Dwight Hall made for Jordan to recuse himself from hearing the appeal was denied, Burkhammer said.

At trial, Burkhammer was acquitted on the conspiracy charge.

A collateral complaint Burkhammer filed with the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, the arm of the Court that investigates attorney misconduct, against Chad Cissel, the attorney appointed to file his appeal to the Court, remains open.

On March 14, 2011, JIC dismissed Burkhammer’s complaint after it could find “no substantiated evidence” that either Irons or Jordan violated the Code of Judicial Conduct. In concluding the letter, Hancock Circuit Judge Ronald Wilson, JIC’s chairman, said that Burkhammer’s allegations “deal with legal matters or rulings made a judicial officer” which do "not rise to the level of an ethics violation.”

However, Wilson said “[t]here may be avenues for appeal available to the litigants in such situations.”

Irons’ and Jordan’s rulings, Burkhammer says in his letter, are not the issue. Instead, it was the fact they made them in spite of having the appearance of a conflict of interest.

As further evidence that JIC did not read his complaint, Burkhammer says it used virtually the same language in it as it did in the one dismissing a prior complaint he filed against Jordan in 2008 for calling him a pedophile. That included the final line informing him about “avenues for appeal.”

The Court denied Burkhammer’s appeal in February 2009, three weeks after he was released from a six-month jail sentence.

As of presstime, JIC had yet to respond to Burkhammer’s letter.

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