CHARLESTON – The state Lawyer Disciplinary Board has asked the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals to disbar a Morgantown attorney it claims violated the Rules of Professional Conduct.
Edward R. Kohout faces four counts with several charges of rule violations under each of them, according to the amended formal statement of charges filed Dec. 11 with the state Supreme Court.
The West Virginia Judicial Investigation Commission received a complaint on Sept. 10, against Kohout. The complaint was predicated on several Facebook postings on Kohout’s campaign for Judge of the 17th Judicial Circuit account, in which he personally solicited campaign donations.
On Nov. 20, the JIC determined that Kohout was engaging in serious violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct, according to the statement of charges.
The JIC concluded that Kohout engaged in a pattern of egregious and notorious verbal abuse that is likely to cause irreparable harm to others and on the judicial system.
“Of critical importance, because the effect of his wrongful activity is unlikely to cease during the pendency of the 2016 judicial campaign, the only procedural method available to stop him is injunctive relief from the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia,” the statement of charges reads.
The JIC unanimously determined that probable cause existed to formally charge Kohout with violations of the West Virginia Code of Judicial Conduct and the West Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct.
Kohout, who has been practicing law in West Virginia since 1987, filed pre-candidacy papers in June 2015 for Monongalia circuit court judge. In July 2015, a Facebook page was made for the campaign and the majority of the posts on the site referred to his judicial campaign.
On Sept. 2, counsel for the JIC informally inquired about an undated Facebook solicitation and Kohout responded that the solicitation was accidentally posted to his personal page and had been corrected and that no one had sent funds. After he was questioned about the inappropriate solicitation, Kohout removed it and assured JIC counsel that he would refrain from personally soliciting campaign contributions in the future.
After the ethics complaint was filed, revealed two more solicitations from July and August, Kohout responded that he had no role in the two posts soliciting funds and that there was no functional difference in his committee putting a posting on the Facebook page asking for donations than what other candidates were doing.
While Kohout denied many any personal solicitations, he never said who made the posts and JIC’s counsel made the point to the Commision that the person who has a Facebook page is normally the only one who can access it and make posts unless that person gives someone else privileges by either providing them with the e-mail account and password or assigning them administrative rights.
In the posts, Kohout speaks in the first person and one of the posts was made after he became the sole administrator of the campaign Facebook page.
“It is for these reasons that the JIC has concluded that Edward R. Kohout has not been truthful in his representation to our counsel,” the statement of charges reads.
The second charge against Kohout involves his campaign bank account. The account was created on June 24, 2015, for “Ed Kohout for Judge” at the Morgantown branch for BB&T. Kohout gave $20 to open the account and the balance has remained at $20 with no deposits or withdrawals from its inception through Oct. 30.
A judicial candidate cannot be on the signature card, according to JIC Advisory Opinion 2/15/95. Kohout also declined to address the makeup of his campaign bank account in his Nov. 2 response to the ethics complaint, despite specifically being requested to do so by JIC counsel.
The third charge against Kohout involves maintaining dignity appropriate to judicial office. Between July and November, Kohout made derogatory and hateful comments, including describing government receptioninsts as “dumbass coloured women” and stating that “too many women taking men’s jobs trying to be men when they oughta be home taking care fo [sic] the kids.”
He also described people of middle eastern descent as “Ahab,” “Arab,” “camel bangers” and “ragheads.”
“In yet another supercilious post he said that ‘many black men beat their women’ and ‘so many run off’ leaving ‘single while women and their white parents to raise the babies.’ He also said that ‘white women who date black men are trash and ruined.’”
On Jan. 15, Kohout and the Judicial Disciplinary Counsel entered into a written agreement in which Kohout agreed to never again seek judicial office by election or appointment in West Virginia, according to a Feb. 5 stipulation and recommended discipline document.
In a March 15 order from the Judicial Hearing Board, the board recommended that Kohout receive a public censure for his violations; that in lieu of a fine, he be ordered to pay the ultimate costs of the investigation and prosecution in the amounts of $3,307.95 as of Jan. 28 and at a rate of $200 per month beginning 30 days after the conclusion of proceedings; and that Kohout be barred from ever seeking any judicial office again.
W.Va. Supreme Court of Appeals case number: 15-1190