MORGANTOWN — Magistrate Darris Summers faces public censure and disciplinary action for comments made following a domestic violence trial, statements the victim’s mother described as “boorish” and “chauvinistic.”
Following a bench trial over a domestic violence case, Summers found the accused not guilty, and then he made comments that he admitted were likely to get him in trouble.
“It’s never a big deal when a woman hits a man, but when a man hits a woman all holy hell breaks loose,” he said according to judicial records. “A man should be allowed to defend himself. If she hit me, I would have hit her back, too.”
Those comments led to a formal complaint as the woman Summers referred to, Samantha Hall, stated the comments made her feel “violated all over again.”
The state’s judicial disciplinary council filed several charges against Summers and on Jan. 24, as the sides reached an agreement on sanctions in the case, he issued an apology in a hearing.
“I regret those remarks, and I wish somehow I could take them back and avoid the pain I have caused you in front of your family and peers,” Summers said in his prepared remarks.
He also said he would work to be a better magistrate and not make insensitive remarks in court.
The complaint against Summers stemmed from a criminal case that began in January 2017. Samantha Hall encountered an ex-boyfriend, Chase Williams, at a party. There was a dispute — their stories differ — and Hall said Williams held her in a stairwell, grabbed her by the wrists and neck, slammed her against a wall and made threats.
Williams, during the trial, contended that Hall hit him first, was intoxicated and was the aggressor.
Following the trial, Summers determined Williams was not guilty. He made comments after he delivered his verdict. Meghan Hall, Samantha’s mother, said she remembers the words and delivered a nearly identical version to the ones presented in disciplinary council documents.
She also said they decided before the trial they wouldn’t appeal the verdict and that it was expected, based on comments they heard about Summers’ reputation.
Samantha Hall said the post-verdict comments were in a courtroom full of her peers.
“He made me feel like I was wrong for reporting the attack and for following through with the legal process. I was humiliated,” she wrote in her complaint.
“I think it was even harder to show my face the next day,” Samantha Hall told The Dominion Post on Wednesday.
In a letter to the state’s Supreme Court, Meghan Hall called the comments “inappropriate and unprofessional harassment.” She added it not only undermined the integrity and dignity of the judicial office, but the judicial system as a whole.
While Meghan Hall had difficulty finding the words to describe Summers’ post-verdict comments she used ones like “boorish” and “chauvinistic.”
While the family did not agree with the quasi-settlement, Meghan Hall said, they also didn’t oppose it.
The disciplinary board found Summers in violation of several rules, including ones of bias and decorum and demeanor.
The agreement calls for Summers to face a public censure and $2,000 fine. That side presented the agreement before an out-of-county judge on Wednesday. Eventually, the state’s Supreme Court will issue a final order on sanctions.
As the agreement was presented, Summers also read an apology letter to the Hall family.
“It brought back a lot of feelings I didn’t want to feel,” Samantha Hall said of the apology.
Meghan Hall said she felt the apology was “a little late and little forced.” She said she called for Summers to be removed from the bench, but that action would need to come from a county commission.
Summers’ attorney Raymond Yackel declined to comment as the case isn’t finalized.
But, he did send a letter in response to the charges to the disciplinary counsel. For the verdict, Summers found that Hall was aggressor in the case, according to the letter.
It also states that Summers “strongly believes that domestic violence has no place in our society.”
In response to charges regarding decorum, Yackel wrote, Summers was explaining his ruling before all parties.
The letter also states that Summers believed Hall lied under oath in statements for the protective order and that Hall was not reasonably fearful of Williams.
Summers, in his apology, noted his mother died in an act of domestic violence. He also believes on of the magistrate’s most important duties is to protect citizens from domestic violence.
He also told the family he regrets his comments and wished he could take them back to avoid the pain he caused.
The Hall family said they wanted to spread the word about the disciplinary action and the situation so that others don’t have to face what they endured.
“My goal today was to make sure this didn’t happen to other people,” Samantha Hall said.