Watching Over Magistrate Courts

It is difficult to imagine a Northern Panhandle magistrate behaving as one in Kanawha County did for years. Then again, it probably was hard for Kanawha County residents to understand how former Magistrate Carol Fouty got away with her actions.

All of it came to an end this week, when Fouty resigned from her post. That occurred just a few days before the state Judicial Hearing Board was to hear evidence in five cases charging Fouty with violating the judicial code of conduct.

Fouty was suspended from her job without pay in April, after state Supreme Court Administrator Steve Canterbury filed a complaint against her. He had plenty of reasons for concern.

In 2009, Fouty, after a hearing, found probable cause to issue a peace bond. She was officially admonished – because the request was submitted by a friend she had helped write the formal document seeking issuance of a bond.

That episode didn’t seem to slow her down. After it occurred, her misbehavior appeared to accelerate. Among the five accusations against her this summer was that she hired a woman as a maid – after dismissing a drug charge against the person. Another charge involved a professional bond facilitator who took clients to Fouty’s home to work for her, then kept the money they were paid in exchange for his services.

The record indicates beyond any doubt that Fouty was involved in severe conflicts of interest. It also shows they occurred over a substantial period of time before Canterbury was made aware and took action against her.

Fouty no longer is a concern for the people of Kanawha County. But throughout the state, her case should cause concern about monitoring of magistrates’ behavior. It is something Canterbury and justices of the state Supreme Court should look into, perhaps with the intent of beefing up oversight to avoid outrageous conduct such as Fouty’s.