September 25, 2023

A West Virginia judge who personally led an unauthorized search of a man’s home and allowed his ex-wife to take a number of items from it, while threatening the man with arrest, is now facing a judgment of her own.

From the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

It is the Institute for Justice that is working on the case involving Matthew Gibson.

The legal team is urging the appeals court to affirm a lower court’s ruling that Louise Goldston, a judge in Raleigh County family court, overstepped her authority.

She, during a hearing in the man’s divorce case, “halted a court hearing, ordered everyone present to go to Matthew’s house, searched through his belongings without a warrant, and threatened to arrest him when he began recording the encounter.”

Now Goldston is demanding to be protected from any liability for her actions, claiming “judicial immunity.”

That’s a doctrine created by judges that says they are protected from civil liability when they violate someone’s rights “while acting in their judicial capacity.”

“Judicial immunity should only apply when judges are actually acting as judges. Leading a search party is not acting like a judge,” said IJ Attorney Tori Clark. “The lower court was completely correct when it denied Judge Goldston’s claim that she was entitled to judicial immunity, and we urge the appeals court to uphold that ruling.”

Goldston pulled her stunt back in March 2020 during a divorce case hearing.

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“Judge Goldston abruptly ended the hearing, asked Matthew for his address, and ordered Matthew, his ex-wife, her attorney, and several law enforcement officers to go to Matthew’s home. When they arrived at the home, Judge Goldston led a search party through Matthew’s home, including his basement and gun safe. Matthew told the judge she could not enter his home without a warrant, to which she responded, ‘Oh yeah, I will,’” the IJ reported.

Matthew’s ex-wife claimed a number of items in the home, and the judge simply gave them to her even though some belonged to Matthew and some to his children.

The IJ reported her actions “were so far out of bounds that they received widespread condemnation. She was charged with multiple ethics violations, censured, and fined. The West Virginia High Court even condemned her actions as unbecoming of a judge.”

Then when Matthew sued, she claimed “she was entitled to judicial immunity and that Matthew’s claims should thus be thrown out.”

A federal district court rejected her claim and she appealed.

The IJ explained as part of its Project on Immunity and Accountability, it has been standing up against various forms of immunities that prevent Americans from receiving justice when their rights are violated by government officials.

Other incidents include where police officers claimed qualified immunity after arresting an Ohio man for making a parody Facebook page, when a road-raging police officer claimed qualified immunity after he blocked a man in his driveway and held him at gunpoint for passing the officer on the road, and one where a mayor, a chief of police, and a special investigator engineered a scheme to throw a 72-year-old council woman in jail for speaking out against their ally, a city manager.

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