ARLINGTON, Va.—On Tuesday, West Virginia Family Court Judge Louise Goldston retired from her position amid a legislative push to impeach her for violating the rights of West Virginians. The resolution to impeach Goldston specifically mentions the judge leading a warrantless search of the home of Institute for Justice (IJ) client Matt Gibson. Despite her retirement, Matt and IJ will continue moving forward with their lawsuit against Goldston.
“The West Virginia Legislature has done the right thing in this case, but Americans cannot and should not have to depend on legislative grace to ensure that judges follow the Constitution,” said IJ Attorney Tori Clark. “Judge Goldston’s retirement is a good first step, but this lawsuit must continue to move forward so we can ensure that Matt and others who are wronged by unconstitutional judicial conduct can vindicate their rights in court.”
In March 2020, Goldston stopped a court proceeding between Matt and his ex-wife, ordered everyone in the courtroom to go to Matt’s home, and led a warrantless search party through the home. When Matt tried to stop her by telling her that she could not enter his home without a warrant, she said—and it’s all recorded on video—”oh yeah, I will.” During the search, Goldston ordered Matt’s ex-wife to take anything from the home she believed was hers and threatened to arrest Matt for filming the encounter.
Following the events of that day, Goldston was charged with several ethics violations, censured, fined, and condemned by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. Matt then brought a federal lawsuit against Goldston for violating his rights. The judge argued that she should be entitled to judicial immunity and that Matt’s claims against her should be thrown out. Judicial immunity is a legal doctrine that shields judicial officials from being held accountable in a lawsuit when they violate people’s rights if those actions were done in a judicial capacity. Thankfully, the district court held that Goldston was not entitled to judicial immunity because judges don’t barge into people’s homes without warrants. Goldston then appealed that decision to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
In November 2022, Matt and IJ teamed up to defend the district court’s decision so Matt can hold Goldston accountable in court. Matt’s victory in this case would send a strong signal that judges are not above the law and can’t count on judicial immunity to shield them from unlawful conduct. “I’m happy that the corrupt judge is stepping down so she can’t violate other people’s rights like she did to me,” said Matt. “But judges aren’t above the law. My case will move forward to ensure that what happened to me does not happen again.”
This case is a part of IJ’s Project on Immunity and Accountability, which fights to ensure that qualified, judicial, and prosecutorial immunities do not prevent individuals from vindicating their rights in court. If citizens must follow the law, government officials must follow the Constitution.