Corruption: Criminal misconduct can’t be ignored

When the light shone brightly enough on judicial misconduct in West Virginia to result in concerns that the entire state Supreme Court of Appeals would have to be replaced, it appears to have inspired others to take a closer look at those sitting on the bench at all levels in the Mountain State.

That has resulted in the indefinite suspension without pay of Roger D. Clem, Jr. of Weston, a Lewis County Magistrate, and Alton L. Skinner, II of Sand Fork, a Gilmer County Magistrate, after their indictment on multiple charges. They each face one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud, two counts of wire fraud, two counts of mail fraud, and one count of obstruction of justice. Skinner also faces a charge of making a false statement to a federal agent. Meanwhile, the Judicial Investigation Commission is looking into “serious violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct.”

What happened? According to U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of West Virginia Bill Powell, Skinner’s “spouse is the operator of authorized bonding company E-Z Out, LLC in Sand Fork and his son is an authorized bonding agent there.”

Take a wild guess to which company Clem and Skinner were allegedly steering recently arrested clients. In fact, Powell’s office says “Skinner would allegedly arrange for his spouse or son, as agents of E-Z Out, to be present at the arraignment of the detainee without the detainee’s informed choice of E-Z Out amongst other authorized bonding companies.” The alleged arrangement appears to have been a rather handy one for a while.

And for too long in West Virginia, such criminal misconduct was ignored — in some places even encouraged — as just the way it is; just the “good ole boy network” doing what it has always done.

It is important for both those depending on a fair shake from the justice system AND for those in positions of authority in that system to understand: That is no longer the case.