CHARLESTON – The Judicial Hearing Board has recommended that the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals bar Nicholas circuit judge-elect Stephen Callaghan for one year following the ethics charges against him for alleged shady campaign tactics.
The JHB also recommended that Callaghan be suspended for a year from practicing law, according to Tuesday’s recommendation.
Circuit Judge Lawrance Miller Jr. wrote that the board recommended that Callaghan be censured as a judicial candidate and reprimanded as a lawyer.
Ethics charges were brought against Callaghan after his alleged smear campaign against Circuit Judge Gary Johnson, who had presided as circuit judge in Nicholas County for 23 years. Callaghan defeated Johnson by 220 votes.
The West Virginia Judicial Investigation Commission charged Callaghan with violating the rules judges and judicial candidates are required to abide by in August. Callaghan filed a lawsuit in October asking a federal court judge to dismiss the disciplinary case against him.
In May, about one week before the primary election, Callaghan had a flier sent out that showed a photo-shopped image of Johnson with President Barack Obama at a party. The flier also stated that while Johnson was present at a White House event, Nicholas County was losing hundreds of jobs.
The ethics charges brought against Callaghan claimed that the fliers were meant to deceive voters into believing that Johnson and Obama were drinking beer and partying at the White House while “conniving with one another to kill coal mining jobs in Nicholas County.”
In Callaghan’s lawsuit, he claims that he denies that the flier was created to mislead the public or imply that Johnson was personally responsible for the loss of Nicholas County jobs and that the public had the right to question Johnson’s judgment in attending the event.
Callaghan claimed that within hours of the flier being mailed out, Teresa A. Tarr called him and had concluded that the flier, rather than being a statement of opinion, was a statement of literal facts and outlined the steps Callaghan needed to take to avoid controversy over the advertising and to mitigate any perceived harm.
Johnson’s son filed a formal complaint with the West Virginia Lawyer Disciplinary Board and the West Virginia Judicial Commission on May 16.
According to the board’s recommendations, Callaghan should also pay $15,000 and pay for the cost of the proceedings against him.