Family judge/board member orders defendant to take classes at nonprofit

By Lawrence Smith | Jul 15, 2013

CHARLESTON - Records show a Kanawha County Family Law judge has ordered a defendant to take classes at a nonprofit at which he is a board member.

In a writ of prohibition filed May 1, Assistant Kanawha County Public Defender Sara Whitaker accused Judge Michael J. Kelly of violating the Code of Judicial Conduct in at least two criminal domestic violence cases when he used Magistrate Express to check prior criminal convictions during bond reduction hearings.

In her writ, Whitaker asked Circuit Judge Jennifer Bailey, who was assigned the case, to prohibit Kelly from doing likewise in a bond reduction hearing for Thomas J. Cobb III scheduled for May 3.

According to the criminal complaint, which was not available after Whitaker filed her writ but made available recently following a formal request made by the West Virginia Record, Cobb, 22, was charged with one count of domestic battery on April 5 following an altercation with his wife, Ashley Lattea, at their home on Miracle Drive in St. Albans. The complaint, which was filed by Senior Trooper S.P. Demaske, alleges Cobb struck Lattea in the back of her head in the course of arguing with her about breaking his cell phone.

Records show a week after the writ was filed, Cobb agreed to pre-trial diversion. The terms included Cobb taking eight hours of unspecified classes taught by the Kanawha Institute for Social Research and Action through the Kanawha County Day Report Center and paying a $160.80 monitoring fee over the next six months.

According to its Web site, KISRA is a faith-based nonprofit organization affiliated with Ferguson Baptist Church located in Dunbar. Its programs include a “Pathways to Responsible Fatherhood,” which instructs men on domestic violence prevention, money management skills and marriage/relationship counseling.

KISRA’s Web site also lists Kelly as one of its nine members of its board of directors.

The Record attempted to obtain a comment from Kelly about, while serving on its board, ordering Cobb to take KISRA’s classes. He did not return repeated telephone calls.

The Record also attempted to obtain a comment from Michelle Foster, KISRA’s chief executive officer concerning her knowledge of Kelly ordering Cobb, or other defendants, to take its classes. She, too, did not return repeated telephone calls.

Under a pilot program created last year by the state Legislature and under the guidance of the state Supreme Court, all domestic violence-related cases in Kanawha County are assigned to either Kelly or Magistrate Julie Yeager.

Kanawha Circuit Court, case number 13-P-241 (Cobb writ of prohibition)

Kanawha Magistrate Court, case number 13-M-2724 (Cobb criminal)

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