Magistrate recuses herself from case

PARKERSBURG- In what may be a first in West Virginia, a Wood County magistrate voluntarily recused herself from a case after it was brought to her attention that she was a Facebook friend with a police officer involved in the case.

In the Wood County Magistrate Court case of City of Vienna v. James Paul Weigle, Magistrate Joyce Purkey recused herself after she was informed she was friends with Vienna Police Sgt. R.L. Pifer.

Wood County Circuit Court Judge J.D. Beane, the supervising judge over the magistrate court in Wood County, said Purkey voluntarily recused herself from the case.

“What happened it was brought to her attention they were friends there,” Beane said. “To avoid an appearance of impropriety she voluntarily recused her self and I signed the order. She did this to avoid the situation since it was raised. I don’t think she recalled they were friends and she was willing to step aside.”

Beane said no one thought she was recusing herself to avoid the case.

Beane said the term friend as far as Facebook is concerned can be misleading.

“People can add friends but that does not mean they are that close,” he said. “But to avoid an appearance of impropriety she asked to be removed from the case.”

According to court records, the case was reassigned to Magistrate Robin Waters and a hearing has been set for 1 p.m. Aug. 15.

Jennifer Bundy, the public information officer for the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, said the recusal is a first in the state as far as court personnel know.

Bundy said while some states have specific rules regarding the use of social media by court officers, West Virginia does not.

“We use the Canon of Judicial Ethics,” she said. “It provides some guidance but not specifically to social media.”

Bundy added there have been no requests for an opinion related to social media to the court’s judicial investigation commission.

According to magistrate court records, the incident in the case stems from a traffic stop on April 21, 2010. Weigle of Vienna was charged with obstructing during the Vienna Road Run at the intersection of 34th Street and Grand Central Avenue.

According to the complaint, a car in the southbound lane was honking his horn for a long time and an officer went back to speak with the driver, Weigle. The report states Weigle refused to give Pifer his license when requested.

“He was directed to pull over,” the complaint states. “The suspect complied and used coarse language about how he felt being detained by the Vienna Road Race.”

The report continues to state Weigle was agitated and aggressive in speech and stance and attempted to leave.

According to the report, Pifer barred him then turned him toward his cruiser and placed him on the hood of the car.

“He refused to be handcuffed and Pifer held his left arm at the elbow,” the complaint states. “Pifer’s right arm lifted the defendant’s head for Sgt. B.K. Ingraham.

“Ingraham advised him to release his arms to be cuffed and then produced pepper spray and advised he would use the pepper spray. At that time, Weigle released his arms and he was handcuffed.”

When contacted by the newspaper Wednesday, Weigle declined to comment on the case. Purkey did not return a phone call Wednesday requesting a comment.