CHARLESTON – The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals has ruled to annul the law license of a former candidate for Monongalia circuit judge.
The Supreme Court issued its decision on Nov. 15 to annul Edward R. Kohout’s law license, stating that after careful consideration, they concluded that his unethical behavior warranted the annulment, along with additional sanctions.
Justice Brent Benjamin authored the majority opinion.
The lawyer disciplinary proceeding arose from four separate complaints filed with the Lawyer Disciplinary Board concerning Kohout and, following an evidentiary hearing, the Herald Panel Subcommittee of the LDB issued a report determining that Kohout engaged in unethical conduct.
The HPS recommended Kohout’s license be annulled, that he make restitution to client Sonja Richard in the amount of $2,059.66 and that he be ordered to pay the costs of the disciplinary proceedings.
The Office of Disciplinary Counsel urged the court to adopt the recommended sanctions, even though Kohout insisted the annulment was too severe a penalty for his misconduct.
Kohout was admitted to the West Virginia State Bar in 1987. After the four complaints were made, a statement of Charles was filed with the court on Sept. 25, 2015, and a hearing was held for two days starting on Jan. 25. The HPS filed its report recommending the sanctions on June 3.
The complaints included one concerning former clients from a 2012 lawsuit; one by his former receptionist who quit because she wasn’t paid and also claimed Kohout called her a disparaging term; one from a client who retained Kohout in 2013 for a personal injury matter; and one concerning a former part-time law clerk who retained Kohout for a suit arising from a defect in a vehicle.
“Mr. Kohout’s intentional and numerous violations of the Rules, including the conversion of funds belonging to a client and a third party, warrant the annulment of his law license,” Benjamin wrote in the majority opinion. “We therefore adopt the sanctions recommended by the HPS and order the annulment of Mr. Kohout’s license to practice law in the State of West Virginia.”
In September, the West Virginia Judicial Investigation Commission received a complaint against Kohout that 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.
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.
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 Commission 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.
Andrea J. Hinerman of the ODC represented the Lawyer Disciplinary Board.
Rachel L. Fetty of Big Tree Law represented Kohout.
W.Va. Supreme Court of Appeals case number: 15-0926