Judge Violated Ethical Rule Through Photoshopped Campaign Ad Using Obama
A judge elected last year is found to have violated an ethical rule and is hereby suspended for two years. The West Virginian local judge photoshopped a campaign ad showing then-President Obama drinking beer with the judge's rival that caused a stir among Facebook users and colleagues for foul play.
In an order imposed by the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia, Judge Stephen Callaghan was suspended without pay including a $15,000 fine. West Virginia Record mentioned the local judge violated the ethical rule by designing a campaign ad intended to deceive voters that rival and longtime Nicholas Circuit Judge Gary Johnson was partying at the White House with President Barack Obama. The photoshopped ad, posted on Facebook, also implied that while Johnson was at the White house partying, Nicholas County lost hundreds of job.
Judge Callaghan denied the ethics charges brought against him saying the public was free to interpret the photoshopped campaign ad and hours after it was disposed he was advised it was a statement of literal facts, hence, a directive to avoid or mitigate controversy. The decision then noted that Johnson did not attend a conference in the White House in 2015 and he has not even met Obama at the time. "Judge-elect Callaghan's conduct violated fundamental and solemn principles regarding the integrity of the judiciary," the majority opinion said.
Under the State ethics rules, lawyers are not permitted to make false statements concerning the integrity of a judge or of a candidate for election or appointment to judicial office. In effect, the local judge violated an ethical rule that warrants disciplinary action. Although Judge James Matish disapproved the length of the sanction, he affirmed the falsity used by Callaghan in his campaign ad. "By his own actions, he has shown that he is unfit to hold a judicial office and, at the appropriate time, a new election should be held," Matish wrote in his separate opinion.
The suspended judge has filed a First Amendment lawsuit alleging among others the photoshopped campaign ad was a protected "form of hyperbole or parody," and is pending in court. Clearly, ethical rules exist for a reason and that is to uphold the sanctity of the judiciary. It is not only the constitutional duty of the courts to protect its integrity but for judges, as well, who are given the highest responsibility and are deemed to be exemplars both in their field and in the society.