LOGAN – Had he not resigned, a former Logan County family court judge could have been disciplined after having a relationship with a former secretary.
Jason Harwood agreed never to seek judicial office again, according to an admonishment from the West Virginia Judicial Investigation Commission that was made public Friday.
“Judge Harwood developed an unfavorable reputation in his work environment and perhaps in the community concerning his attitude toward women as sex objects, which was contributed to by his use of language of a sexual nature and his crude utterances about a woman’s physical appearance,” said the JIC admonishment, which was signed by Chairman Ronald E. Wilson, a circuit judge in Ohio, Brooke and Hancock counties. “As such, it was a combination of all of this that caused the Commission to conclude that Jason D. Harwood’s attitude toward women was more like that of an adolescent’s notions of women as sex objects than that of a responsible circuit judge and that he should no longer serve in that honorable position.”
The JIC said Harwood violated multiple canons of the state’s Judicial Code of Conduct because of the relationship with his secretary. Also, it said Harwood gave legal advice to a friend who had a case pending in Preston County Family Court. Judges are not allowed to give legal advice, according to the Code of Conduct.
Harwood resigned July 10, and state Supreme Court Chief Justice Margaret Workman appointed Susan Perry to replace him until Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin appoints someone to fill the remainder of Harwood’s term.
The JIC said Harwood wanted a woman with the initials of TFM to be his secretary before he took office in January 2009. They began a sexual relationship soon after, and he promoted her to Family Court Case Coordinator in 2010. She worked there until March 2011.
“Judge Harwood’s decision to engage in a sexual relationship with his secretary was ill-conceived and unacceptable,” Wilson wrote in the admonishment, adding that affairs “can cause public humiliation for the parties involved. They are rarely kept secret and, as the investigation in this case discloses, can become grist for the gossip mill and destructive blather in the community.”
The JIC said that after TFM left the court job, she and Harwood continued to email each other, sometimes discussing cases pending before Harwood that concerned her friends.
“It appears that TFM felt she could discuss these improper subjects with Judge Harwood, and he did nothing to discourage her from contacting him or discussing the matters,” Wilson wrote.
“(LB, a friend of TFM) had a hearing in front of you on behalf of her daughter about a month ago?” TFM wrote Harwood in a 2012 email. “Anyway, the boy broke her nose last week and she is having surgery today. In your order, you said the state had a year to pick up criminal charges would that only be for the issue you heard at hand or could it go along w/this new issue?”
Harwood wrote back, “They have a year for both charges from the date each happened. That little bastard needs to be charged and put in jail since he’s such a big tough guy.”
In another email exchange, TFM wrote that Harwood had an upcoming hearing with a woman who lived with “a pretty big vote getter. He is a friend.”
“I know SB,” Harwood replied. “I’ll take care of it. Anything for you,” the document states.
“Silly boy. I am trying to help you w/ your votes … lol,” TFM replied.
In another email exchange, TFM asked Harwood about an attorney involved in a case her friend had pending before Harwood. He replied by commenting on the attorney’s abilities and on the friend’s sexual orientation and the perceived sexual orientation and manner of dress of the opposing attorney.
Harwood was a private practice attorney as well as a Logan County assistant prosecutor and a county public defender before being elected judge.