CHARLESTON, W.Va. (Legal Newsline) - A West Virginia magistrate who is being investigated for violating the state's code of conduct has resigned effective immediately.
In a one-page letter sent to the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Friday, Kanawha County Magistrate Carol Fouty said she is stepping down due to "ongoing health problems" and wanting to spend more time with her family.
"I have been employed as a magistrate for the past 26 years and have worked continuously for and in the best interest of the people of this county," she wrote Chief Justice Menis Ketchum.
"My resignation is effective immediately."
In June, the state Supreme Court denied to reconsider a previous order suspending Fouty without pay pending disciplinary proceedings, which are set for this month.
The Court suspended Fouty in April without pay after an investigation was done regarding her housekeeper, who was arrested for driving under the influence while driving Fouty's car.
In its June 12 follow-up ruling, the Court said both the state's Code of Judicial Conduct and existing case law supported Fouty's suspension without pay.
"There is probable cause in this case to believe that Magistrate Fouty engaged in serious violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct," the justices wrote in their per curiam decision.
"The unilateral dismissal of a criminal charge, which she admits occurred in the Fisher case, is clearly improper. It directly relates to the administration of justice and the public's perception of the same.
"Arguably, this transgression alone may not warrant suspension without pay, however, the statement of charges contains multiple counts involving a variety of questionable judicial practices and activities, casting serious doubt on the integrity of the judicial system."
The justices continued, "The charges regard conduct calling into question the proper administration of justice as well as the judicial officer's public persona. As was recognized in the order of suspension, the seriousness of the present charges are further compounded by the existence of prior admonishments."
An investigation began after Fouty's housekeeper, Melea Dawn Fisher, was arrested on Feb. 27 for driving under the influence while driving the magistrate's car. Prior to the incident, Fouty had dismissed a drug charge against the woman and then hired her as her maid.
Fouty also released a man on a personal recognizance bond after the police had charged him with driving while under the influence of drugs. After he was released by Fouty, the man returned to his car and was arrested by police a second time.
The Judicial Disciplinary Counsel's formal charges, filed against Fouty April 10, also mention a man who needed an attorney. Fouty agreed to help the man if he would fix the concrete at her home.
The charges mention another man who did yard work for her in return for money needed to repay another man who paid his bail.
In addition, Fouty was previously admonished in December 2011 for violating canons of the Code of Judicial Conduct.
In its June ruling, the Court noted that it was "not unsympathetic" to the financial hardship their decision imposed on the magistrate, but added that its "primary duty is to defend the integrity of the judicial system."
"Should the outcome of this disciplinary matter warrant, the magistrate may return to this Court to seek back pay," the justices added.
Fouty's attorney, Michael J. DelGiudice of Charleston law firm Ciccarello, DelGiudice and Lafon, could not be immediately reached for comment.
Ketchum had appointed Brenda Chapman, a senior status magistrate from Cabell County, to serve in Fouty's place during her suspension back in April.
However, Kanawha County Circuit Court Judge Louis "Duke" Bloom swore in Kristen Vieweg, a Republican like Fouty, Monday afternoon.
Bloom, who said he was notified by the Supreme Court on Friday of Fouty's resignation, said Vieweg most recently has been working in the magistrate clerk's office and assisting him in implementing a master schedule for the magistrates.
He said she also previously worked as a magistrate's assistant and was, at one point, Fouty's assistant.
Vieweg, who is a 2001 graduate of West Virginia University's law school, will serve until the end of the year, Bloom said.
It is still not clear, at this point, whether Fouty will withdraw from the state's general election.
Fouty, along with fellow Republicans Diana Graves, Bob Keller and Mike Sisson, advanced to the Nov. 6 election following the May primary. All four will face 10 Democratic candidates.
From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at email@example.com.