A Logan County family court judge who resigned last week could have faced disciplinary action after having an inappropriate relationship with his former secretary, according to the West Virginia Judicial Investigation Commission.
Jason D. Harwood, 42, has agreed to never again seek judicial office in West Virginia, the admonishment from the judicial commission states. The admonishment was made public Friday.
Besides the relationship with his secretary, “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,” the admonishment states. Circuit Judge Ronald E. Wilson, who presides over Ohio, Brooke and Hancock counties and is chairman of the Judicial Investigation Commission, signed the admonishment.
“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,” Wilson wrote July 13.
The investigation found that Harwood violated multiple canons of the state’s Judicial Code of Conduct because of the relationship with his secretary. Also, the document states, Harwood gave inappropriate 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.
On July 6, Harwood wrote a one-sentence letter to state Supreme Court Chief Justice Margaret Workman stating that he would resign at 5:01 p.m. July 10. Workman appointed Susan Perry to replace him until Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin appoints someone to fill the remainder of Harwood’s term.
Harwood could not be reached for comment Friday. He has 14 days after the receipt of the public admonishment to file a written objection to its contents. If he objects, formal charges will be filed with the clerk of the Supreme Court.
According to the admonishment, Harwood had the woman, identified by her initials TFM, in mind to be his secretary before he took office in January 2009. The two began a sexual relationship after she was hired, the investigation found. Harwood promoted the woman in late 2010 to family court case coordinator, where she worked until March 2011.
According to the admonishment, Harwood acknowledged in a sworn statement on May 28 that he knew it was inappropriate for a judge to engage in that type of a relationship.
“Judge Harwood’s decision to engage in a sexual relationship with his secretary was ill-conceived and unacceptable,” Wilson wrote in the admonishment.
He added that improper sexual relationships “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.”
After TFM stopped working for Harwood, they continued to email each other. TFM sometimes discussed cases pending before Harwood that concerned her friends. The admonishment quotes from emails sent between Harwood and TFM.
“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,” the admonishment states.
In an email exchange dated Feb. 12, 2012, TFM asked Harwood if he remembered her friend, “LB.”
“She had a hearing in front of you on behalf of her daughter about a month ago?” TFM wrote to the judge. “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 responded that he remembered, according to a transcript included in the admonishment, and 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 between Harwood and his former secretary, from March 2, 2012, according to the investigation commission, TFM wrote that she, “Wanted to give [Harwood] a heads up … KH has a hearing in front of you in April, I want to say April 21st but don’t quote me on that. Anyway, she now lives with SB, I assume you remember him. He is a pretty big vote getter. He is my friend … .”
The judge thanked her, adding, “I know SB. 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, according to the investigation commission.
In another email between the two, the woman asked Harwood about an attorney involved in a case her friend had pending before Harwood. The judge responded that the attorney was good, “but not as good as her friend’s lawyer.” He also commented on the friend’s sexual orientation and the perceived sexual orientation and manner of dress of the opposing attorney, the admonishment states.
Harwood violated even his own policy, the investigation commission points out. Since taking office, he’d mandated that his staff not to discuss pending or impending cases with anyone outside the office who was not affiliated with the matter as a litigant or attorney, according to the admonishment document.
A secretary who answered the phone in Harwood’s office at the Logan County Courthouse on Wednesday said when asked about the resignation: “We’re not allowed to comment.”
Harwood served as an Logan County assistant prosecutor and a county public defender before being elected judge. He ran unopposed in the primary and general elections in 2008. He also previously worked for the law firm Shaffer & Shaffer, which has offices in Madison and Charleston.
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Reach Kate White at [email protected], 304-348-1723 or follow @KateLWhite on Twitter.