Lawsuit details sexual assault claims against former Logan Co. judge

By Chris Dickerson | Sep 23, 2015

LOGAN – The secretary for a former Logan County family judge has accused him of sexually assaulting her.

Jason Harwood resigned from his judgeship in July, and he agreed to never seek judicial office again in West Virginia. In an admonishment from the state Judicial Investigation Commission, Hardwood admitted to having a sexual relationship with his former secretary.

Two months later, that secretary now has filed a civil lawsuit in Logan Circuit Court against Harwood.

The woman, who only is identified as Jane Doe in the complaint, says Harwood sexually assaulted her numerous times in his Logan County Courthouse chambers, her office, the courtroom and a storage room. In the judicial complaint against Harwood, the woman is identified as TFM.

Through his attorney, Harwood denied the allegations made in the civil complaint.

“Judge Harwood denies that he committed sexual harassment, assault, threats, intimidation, or any other unlawful conduct,” said Brian Moore, an attorney with Dinsmore & Shohl’s Charleston office. “We plan to aggressively defend this case.”

In her complaint, the woman says she began working for Harwood in January 2009 shortly after he was elected as Logan County Family Court Judge. She says she and Harwood went to high school together and that she needed the health insurance benefits from the job because she suffers from diabetes and her daughter has asthma.

“Plaintiff was raising her daughter on her own, without any financial assistance from her ex-husband, whose threats and violent actions against plaintiff prompted a court to issue a permanent domestic violence protection order for plaintiff,” the complaint states.

About two months into the job, the woman says Harwood began making “crude unwelcome comments” about her breasts and other parts of her body. Despite her attempts to persuade him to stop, the woman says Harwood began making such comments with more regularity.

In April 2009, when his wife still was in the hospital after giving birth to their son, the woman says Harwood asked her to accompany him to a wedding he was presiding over at a private residence.

“After consuming a couple of wine coolers at the wedding, plaintiff felt strange.” The complaint states. “She was not drunk, but felt very heavy and could feel herself coming in and out of consciousness.”

The woman says she remembers getting out of Harwood’s car at his home, then waking up naked in his bed.

“When she woke up, she saw defendant standing beside the bed wearing only his underwear,” the complaint states. “Although plaintiff has no recollection of any sexual act being committed by defendant on this occasion, before she put her clothes on, she washed dried male ejaculate from her body.”

When Harwood drove the woman to her car, she claims he tried to put his hand on her leg. She says she never told anyone about this incident when it occurred.

The following day, she says Harwood called her and made a comment about she “had opened ‘Pandora’s box’ and that once Pandora’s box was open, it can’t be closed.” She replied that it wouldn’t happen again, but a few weeks later Harwood told her, “you know you opened Pandora’s box, I am your boss, and you are going to take care of your judge.”

The woman says Harwood made more crude references to her body and repeatedly said, “You’ll keep your judge happy to keep your job.”

After that is when the woman says Harwood sexually assaulted her three or four times in the courthouse.

“The first time, defendant came into plaintiff’s office, locked the door, pushed plaintiff into a corner against the wall,” the complaint states. “Plaintiff tried to fight him off, but he sexually forced himself on her.

“While he was sexually assaulting her, plaintiff kept telling him to stop and tried to get away from him, but he was too strong.”

Harwood allegedly told the woman she would have to keep doing this until he said it’s done and that she should do what he wants. When he was finished, the woman again told him it wouldn’t happen again.

“Defendant told plaintiff he could fire her at any time,” the complaint states. “Plaintiff told him you should do whatever you need to do. Defendant then said, ‘No, you will do what I need you to do.’”

The next day, she says Harwood sent her a birthday card referencing the incident. The card said, “Who knew work could be so much fun.”

The woman details other incidents in the civil complaint.

One occurred when Harwood was on the bench in the courtroom. He asked the woman to lock the door and to look at a piece of paper, pulling her chair toward him.

“Defendant then mentioned Pandora’s box, he pulled out his penis, grabbed plaintiff’s head, pushed her down into his crotch and forced her to perform oral sex,” the complaint states. “Plaintiff told defendant she hated his guts.”

Another time, the woman claims Harwood had his pants hemmed and asked her to look at them.

“He pulled off his pants and sexually assaulted her on a table in his office,” the complaint states. “Defendant also forced himself on plaintiff sexually at a restaurant/bar (three times), which was not open for business until the evening. Defendant was friends with the owner and had a key to the bar.”

The complaint details other instances when Harwood would make comments to the plaintiff about keeping him happy to keep her job. One incident is described as “the last time plaintiff wore a skirt.”

“He pulled his pants down. He pulled her dress up and her panties down,” the complaint states. “Plaintiff fought him but could not get him off of her. She said stop, I don’t want to do this. He said Pandora’s box is open you will have to keep doing this until I say it is done.”

She said the attention from Harwood didn’t just occur during work.

“On one occasion, when plaintiff was at Chief Logan State Park swimming pool with her daughter, defendant showed up wearing his business suit just to see plaintiff at the pool,” the complaint states. “On about three occasions, defendant showed up at the house of plaintiff’s grandmother, where plaintiff was living.

“On at least two occasions, defendant, who had been drinking, arrived unannounced at the house and asked plaintiff if she wanted to go for a drive with him, and plaintiff refused.”

That’s when Harwood threatened the plaintiff, according to the suit.

“Before you take me down, I will put you in my boat on Grayson Lake and we will see if they ever find your remains then,” Harwood said, according to the complaint.

The woman says she took the threat seriously. She says the threat of drowning “tapped into a very real fear” for her because her ex-husband had tried to drown her in a bathtub.

“You will be my girlfriend, I’m in love with you,” Harwood said, according to the complaint. The woman said she wasn’t his girlfriend. In fact, she says she was about to marry the person to whom she currently is married.

By August 2010, the woman says she wouldn’t let Harwood near her, and she threatened to expose him if he ever touched her again.

The woman also notes in her complaint that Harwood had “got into some trouble” at a law firm where he used to work for sexually harassing an employee. Harwood previously had served as a Logan County assistant prosecutor and a county public defender, and he worked for Shaffer & Shaffer, which has offices in Madison and Charleston.

The woman says another Logan County Courthouse employee told her Hawood had offered her money for various sexual acts. And, the complaint states that anticipated discovery will show Harwood used his power to try to obtain sexual favors from litigants who appeared before him in exchange for favorable rulings.

The woman began looking for another job in late 2009, and she also contacted the state Supreme Court to find out what would happen if a judge is sexually harassing an employee. She was told a formal complaint would need to be filed. And she asked if the employee likely would lose her job if she filed such a complaint. She was told that likely would happen.

She spoke with the same Supreme Court human resources staffer in the spring of 2010 again and was told the same thing. In April 2011, the woman found another job and left the courthouse job.

When she told Harwood she was leaving, the woman says he tried to talk her out of leaving, in part, “because defendant feared she was going to sue him.” That conversation, she claims, moved to the courtroom where Harwood “secretly recorded what they said.”

The woman said rumors began circulating at the courthouse about Harwood’s alleged sexual harassment of her. As a result, the woman says Harwood confronted her about her possibly filing sexual harassment claims against him. Again, he said told her she’d be buried at the bottom of Grayson Lake and that nobody would find her body. He made a similar threat about a week later, she claims.

“Defendant also told plaintiff he had a son to raise and a re-election coming up and any sexual harassment claim would cause him problems,” the complaint states.

The woman took a job in Charleston, even after Harwood offered her more money out of his pocket to stay. Later, she says she told a Logan County Courthouse worker that she planned to file a sexual harassment suit against Harwood.

“The employee told someone else, who in turn told defendant,” the suit states. “Once again, defendant told plaintiff if se gave him any problems, defendant would bury her at the bottom of Grayson Lake and further noted a dead person cannot talk.

“At this time, plaintiff assured defendant she would not file any complaint because she feared defendant would carry out his threats.”

She claims Harwood continued to contact her, including near her first marriage anniversary in the summer of 2012. He allegedly asked her if she was ready to “take care of your ole judge and make some money.”

The next May, she says Harwood wanted her to meet him at the Marriott in Charleston while he was in town for a conference. He was “furious” that she was carpooling and didn’t have a car to come meet him.

In July 2013, she says Harwood called her and called her “a good girl” for keeping up her promise of not filing a sexual harassment suit against him. He also asked if she wanted to make some money.

And in November 2013, she says both of them were attending different conferences at the same location when she found a note on her car left by Harwood. She ignored the note, but she says he called her and asked to meet. She did meet in a public place, where she says Harwood again praised her for not filing a suit and again asked if she wanted to “serve her ole judge again.”

“It was not until plaintiff began speaking with law enforcement officials in 2014 that she realized she should not let defendant get away with abuse the power of his office to sexually assault and harass her,” the complaint states. “A few months after sending the notice to sue letter in this case, defendant agreed to resign his position as Logan County Family Court Judge, effective July 10, 2015.”

On July 13, Harwood reached an agreement with the Judicial Disciplinary Counsel, and the Judicial Investigation Commission issued a public admonishment of Harwood.

“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.”

In the newly filed civil complaint, the woman accuses Harwood of sexual harassment, and she seeks compensation for physical pain and suffering, emotional pain and suffering, humiliation and embarrassment. She also seeks attorney fees, court costs and other relief. She also seeks punitive damages.

“Finally, plaintiff would ask the court to examine what equitable relief may be appropriate to provide more protection for employees of the West Virginia Supreme Court who find themselves in the same predicament as plaintiff,” the complaint states. “Possibilities would include additional training of all employees, emphasizing the confidentiality of any verbal or written complaints of sexual harassment, and any other procedure the court determines is appropriate.”

The plaintiff is being represented by Tim DiPiero and Lonnie Simmons of DiTrapano, Barrett, DiPiero, McGinley & Simmons PLLC in Charleston. The case originally was assigned to Circuit Judge Douglas Witten, but both he and Circuit Judge Eric O’Briant recused themselves. It now has been assigned to Senior Status Judge Thomas W. Steptoe Jr. Steptoe is from the eastern Panhandle, but has been serving in place of former Randolph Circuit Judge Jaymie Wilfong, who was suspended from the bench last year after she admitted to an affair with a county official.

Logan Circuit Court case number 15-C-247

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Dinsmore & Shohl LLP DiTrapano Barrett DiPiero McGinley & Simmons PLLC

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