State ex rel. Judicial Investigation Comm'n v. Putnam Cnty. Bd. of Ballot Comm'rs

Decision Date07 April 2016
Docket NumberNo. 16–0223.,16–0223.
Citation237 W.Va. 99,785 S.E.2d 805
CourtWest Virginia Supreme Court
PartiesSTATE of West Virginia ex rel. JUDICIAL INVESTIGATION COMMISSION, Petitioner v. The PUTNAM COUNTY BOARD OF BALLOT COMMISSIONERS (The Honorable Brian Wood, Putnam County Clerk and Chairman; Judy Jeffries, Member; and Joyce Surface, Member) and Troy Sexton, Respondents.

Teresa A. Tarr, Counsel, Brian J. Lanham, Deputy Counsel, Judicial Investigation Commission, Charleston, WV, for the Petitioner.

Mark A. Sorsaia, Putnam County Prosecuting Attorney, Jennifer Scragg Karr, Putnam County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, Winfield, WV, for the Respondent, Putnam County Board of Ballot Commissioners.

Troy Sexton Hurricane, WV, Respondent, Pro Se.

DAVIS, Justice:

The petitioner herein, the Judicial Investigation Commission (JIC), requests this Court to issue a writ of mandamus against one of the respondents herein, the Putnam County Board of Ballot Commissioners (Board), to remove the other respondent herein, Troy Sexton (Mr. Sexton), a candidate for the office of magistrate in Putnam County, as a magisterial candidate from the May 2016 election ballot. The JIC bases its request for relief upon its determination that Mr. Sexton has been convicted of a “misdemeanor involving moral turpitude” such that he is not qualified to serve as a magistrate pursuant to the requirements for that office set forth in W. Va.Code § 50–1–4 (1992) (Repl. Vol. 2008). Upon a review of the parties' arguments, the appendix record, and the pertinent authorities, we conclude that Mr. Sexton's misdemeanor conviction of reporting a false emergency incident under W. Va.Code § 61–6–20(2) (1984) (Repl. Vol. 2014) constitutes a conviction of a “misdemeanor involving moral turpitude” so as to render him an ineligible candidate for the office of magistrate as contemplated by W. Va.Code § 50–1–4. Accordingly, we grant the requested writ of mandamus and direct the respondent Board to remove Mr. Sexton as a magisterial candidate from the May 2016 election ballot.


To be eligible to serve as magistrate in the State of West Virginia, a person must meet the following qualifications:

Each magistrate shall be at least twenty-one years of age, shall have a high school education or its equivalent, shall not have been convicted of any felony or any misdemeanor involving moral turpitude and shall reside in the county of his election. No magistrate shall be a member of the immediate family of any other magistrate in the county....

W. Va.Code § 50–1–4 (emphasis added). At issue in the case sub judice is whether Mr. Sexton has been convicted of “any misdemeanor involving moral turpitude” so as to render him ineligible to hold the office of Putnam County Magistrate, for which he has filed to be a candidate in the May 2016 election.

A. Putnam County, West Virginia, Misdemeanor Convictions

Mr. Sexton has had a long and storied involvement with the criminal justice system of Putnam County, West Virginia, culminating in multiple misdemeanor convictions for various offenses. In August 2009, Mr. Sexton was charged with two counts of misdemeanor domestic battery in violation of W. Va.Code § 61–2–28(a) (2004) (Repl. Vol. 2010)1 in connection with an incident involving his two six-year-old sons. Apparently frustrated with the children's performance at football practice, Mr. Sexton allegedly picked one child up and threw him to the ground. Mr. Sexton then allegedly picked up his other son by the child's ankle and carried and/or dragged the boy, upside down, across the football field, banging his helmeted head on the ground, and finally throwing him to the ground as well. Ultimately, Mr. Sexton pleaded no contest to both charges in magistrate court. Following his appeal to circuit court, Mr. Sexton was sentenced to six months in jail on the first charge and one year in jail on the second charge; after serving thirty days in jail, the court suspended the remainder of both sentences and placed Mr. Sexton on probation for two years.2

In an encounter that allegedly was related to the foregoing domestic battery convictions, Mr. Sexton was charged, in February 2010, with the misdemeanor crime of making harassing telephone calls in violation of W. Va.Code § 61–8–16 (1976) (Repl. Vol. 2010).3 During the course of an evening, Mr. Sexton allegedly called the victim four times and used harassing language during these exchanges. Mr. Sexton pleaded guilty to this charge, and the magistrate court sentenced him to twenty days in jail, with credit for time served, and imposed a $100 fine.

Thereafter, in January 2014, Mr. Sexton was charged with one count of misdemeanor falsely reporting an emergency incident in violation of W. Va.Code § 61–6–20(2) (1984) (Repl. Vol. 2014).4 On this occasion, Mr. Sexton called Putnam County 911 and allegedly reported that his children were dead and that he had beaten and molested them. When law enforcement officials arrived at his residence, they found Mr. Sexton's children and wife to be unharmed and learned that Mr. Sexton had been drinking. Mr. Sexton pleaded guilty to this charge, and the magistrate court sentenced him to ninety days in jail and imposed a fine of $93.54. The court then suspended this sentence and placed Mr. Sexton on probation for one year.

Finally, in April 2014, Mr. Sexton was charged with one count of misdemeanor first offense driving under the influence (“DUI”) in violation of W. Va.Code § 17C–5–2(d) (2010) (Repl. Vol. 2013)5 when the vehicle he was driving was observed weaving and crossing the center line. Upon stopping Mr. Sexton's vehicle, the arresting officer observed the smell of alcohol on Mr. Sexton's breath; found one opened and one unopened beer can in Mr. Sexton's vehicle; and administered three field sobriety tests, all of which Mr. Sexton failed. Mr. Sexton pleaded guilty to this charge, and the magistrate court sentenced him to time served and imposed a $100 fine.

B. Hamilton County, Ohio, Misdemeanor Convictions

In addition to the foregoing misdemeanor convictions in Putnam County, West Virginia, Mr. Sexton twice has been convicted of misdemeanor crimes in Hamilton County, Ohio. Mr. Sexton was charged with the misdemeanor offenses of disorderly conduct while intoxicated6 and resisting arrest7 at the Cincinnati Reds' Great American Ball Park in June 2008. These charges arose when Mr. Sexton got into an altercation with opposing fans during a Cincinnati Reds baseball game. Mr. Sexton pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct while intoxicated, and the resisting arrest charge was dismissed pursuant to his plea agreement. The Hamilton County, Ohio, Municipal Court imposed a lifetime ban from the Great American Ball Park and charged Mr. Sexton $250 in costs.

Subsequently, in June 2014, Mr. Sexton violated the aforementioned lifetime ban by attending a Cincinnati Reds baseball game at the team's Great American Ball Park and was charged with the felony offense of burglary.

8 Mr. Sexton ultimately pleaded no contest to the misdemeanor offense of criminal trespass (reduced),9 and the charge of felony burglary was dismissed. The Hamilton County, Ohio, Court of Common Pleas then sentenced Mr. Sexton to six months of non-reporting community control10 and imposed a $250 fine. The court additionally warned Mr. Sexton that violation of the terms and conditions of community control would result in the imposition of a thirty-month jail sentence and further ordered him to stay away from the Great American Ball Park.

C. Candidacy for Putnam County Magistrate

Following these various misdemeanor convictions and resultant sentences, Mr. Sexton decided to run for the office of magistrate in the 2nd Magisterial District of Putnam County. In furtherance of his candidacy, Mr. Sexton filed his precandidacy papers on December 22, 2015, and filed his Certificate of Announcement to run for magistrate and paid his associated filing fee on January 11, 2016. Thereafter, the JIC learned of Mr. Sexton's candidacy for magistrate in spite of his multiple misdemeanor convictions and initiated an investigation into his qualification for this office. By decision of February 26, 2016, the JIC unanimously voted to file the instant petition for writ of mandamus seeking Mr. Sexton's removal from the May 2016 election ballot as a candidate for Putnam County magistrate. This Court then issued a rule to show cause and heard oral arguments in this matter.


This Court previously has held that mandamus is a proper proceeding by which to challenge a candidate's eligibility for an elected office:

The eligibility of a candidate for an elective office may be determined in a proceeding in mandamus and, upon a determination therein that a candidate is ineligible to be elected to or to hold the office for which he seeks nomination or election, a writ of mandamus will issue directing the board of ballot commissioners to strike or omit such candidate's name from the primary or general election ballot.

Syl. pt. 1, State ex rel. Summerfield v. Maxwell, 148 W.Va. 535, 135 S.E.2d 741 (1964). We have elaborated on the availability of mandamus relief in this regard as follows:

In West Virginia a special form of mandamus exists to test the eligibility to office of a candidate in either a primary or general election. The proper party respondent in such special action in mandamus is the Secretary of State of the State of West Virginia in the case of an office to be filled by the voters of more than one county or the clerk of the circuit court in the case of an office to be filled by the voters of one county, and this action in mandamus, being a special creation of the evolving common law, is ripe for prosecution immediately upon a candidate's filing of his certificate of candidacy.

Syl. pt. 5, State ex rel. Maloney v. McCartney, 159 W.Va. 513, 223 S.E.2d 607 (1976). Moreover,

[w]here an action in mandamus is brought

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