Man Fights to Uphold Court Ruling That Judges Aren’t Above the Law
Judges are not entitled to do whatever they want, and then demand special treatment just because they happen to wear a robe at work. But that’s exactly what happened in Raleigh County, West Virginia.
During divorce proceedings between Matthew Gibson and his ex-wife, Raleigh County family-court judge Louise Goldston personally forced her way into Matthew’s home to search for items that were in dispute. Goldston—accompanied by Matthew’s ex-wife and the ex-wife’s attorney, among others—walked barefoot through the house, ordering Matthew’s ex-wife to seize DVDs, yearbooks, and pictures off the wall. Some of the items didn’t even belong to Matthew’s ex-wife. And when Matthew tried to record the encounter, the judge threatened him with arrest. Goldston was ultimately censured and fined, and roundly condemned, by the West Virginia high court for violating the state’s code of judicial conduct.
When Matthew sued for these egregious violations of his privacy and free-speech rights, Goldston argued that she was not liable—even if she had violated the Constitution—by invoking a court-made doctrine called judicial immunity. Judicial immunity, as the name suggests, shields judges from liability only for things they do in their roles as judges. Goldston argued that she was entitled to judicial immunity’s special protections for leading a search party through Matthew’s home.
But judicial immunity is reserved for judicial actions, and searching someone’s home is not a judicial act. Just like police officers cannot act like judges, judges cannot act like police officers. The trial court correctly recognized this principle and denied Goldston judicial immunity for her actions. Nonetheless, Goldston is now appealing that decision to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. On appeal, Matthew is teaming up with the Institute for Justice to protect important constitutional guarantees by holding judges accountable.
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