CHARLESTON – The state Supreme Court is opening an inquiry into how the docket of Kanawha County Circuit Court Judge Carrie Webster is administered.
A March 8 story in the Charleston Gazette revealed Jeremy Carter, a man who was incarcerated at South Central Regional Jail, had been accidentally released because of confusion surrounding a group of dismissal orders Webster had filed.
Carter was arrested for attempted kidnapping in South Charleston. On March 10, Webster said an incorrect jail release form was to blame.
“It is hereby ordered that… the Administrative Director of the Courts is hereby directed to initiate forthwith an official inquiry into matters related to the administration of the docket of the Honorable Carrie Webster… including but not limited to the procedures of Judge Webster’s office and the office of the Circuit Clerk of Kanawha, to ensure that fair and appropriate standards of procedure are being maintained and to report the same to the Supreme Court of Appeals,” the Supreme Court’s March 12 order states.
The order is signed by Chief Justice Brent Benjamin.
The article reported Webster intended to dismiss a motion for a psychiatric evaluation in the case.
Instead, she was notified that she dropped the entire case, and Carter had been released from the South Central Regional Jail, the story reported.
Webster said March 10 that she made the comments based on the limited information she had at the time.
“Upon prior inquiry with the clerk’s staff and subsequent review of the relevant case files, I learned that the Circuit Clerk’s staff had sent SCRJ a ‘Jail Release Form’ stating that Mr. Carter’s ‘fugitive and kidnapping [charges]’ were dismissed,” Webster said.
“The clerk’s office advised that the release was executed pursuant to a dismissal order entered by the court on Feb. 28.”
However, the dismissal order was entered not in Carter’s criminal case but in a case classified as miscellaneous that was filed by Carter’s attorney and sought approval for a psychiatric evaluation of Carter.
Webster said the dismissal order did not include directions to dismiss Carter’s criminal case.
Carter was alleged to have attempted to kidnap a child from a vehicle in South Charleston in 2012.
“Importantly, the dismissal order did not include nor direct the circuit clerk to dismiss Case No. 12-F-2685 (i.e. the attempted kidnapping charge) because the case is at pre-indictment status, which means the case has been ‘bound over’ to grand jury for further consideration, and is not actively pending on the court’s docket,” Webster said.
“However, notwithstanding the absence of any language or court ordered directive to do so, the Jail Release Form stated that 12-F-2685 had been dismissed. It is… undisputed that Mr. Carter would not have been released if SCRJ had not received a jail release form from the circuit clerk advising that the attempted kidnapping case (12-F-2685) was dismissed.
“In fact, bond in the amount of $150,000 dollars full surety was set on 10-16-12, and remained unposted when the case was dismissed.”
There was another dismissal order in a case involving Carter. It concerned a fugitive warrant issued for him in Tennessee and was also classified as a criminal miscellaneous case.
“(T)he court concludes that Mr. Carter’s release resulted from a mistake made on the jail release form, which incorrectly stated that Case Number 12-F-2685 (the attempted kidnapping charge) was dismissed,” Webster said.
“It is the jail release form, and not the court’s dismissal order, that triggered the mistaken release of Mr. Carter.”
Webster said all the involved parties should work to correct any procedural flaws to ensure the incident will never be repeated. The Gazette story said Carter had called the circuit clerk’s office to turn himself in, but it was unclear if he had done so yet.
From the West Virginia Record: Reach John O’Brien at firstname.lastname@example.org.