West Virginia Judge Circuit Judge David W. Hummel Jr. pulled out a gun in the courtroom — and then things got weird

During a trial in West Virginia earlier this year, witnesses told The Daily Beast a state court judge drew his pistol, waved it in the air and left it on the bench, the barrel aimed squarely at the company lawyers who had irritated him .

District Judge David W. Hummel Jr., who oversees cases in the tiny town of New Martinsville, repeatedly told The Daily Beast that it never happened. When he was reached by phone in March, he was initially shocked by the allegations. However, in later phone calls his story kept changing as he claimed to be able to remember more details of the incident.

“I didn’t have my 1911 at any point during this process,” he then said, referring to a common type of semi-automatic pistol. “It was hidden in a drawer on the bench. I never showed my 1911 during the process – at any point during this process.

That judge is now under investigation by the state judiciary for violating the profession’s code of conduct, according to three witnesses, who are now sharing information with law enforcement and official communications about the investigation reviewed by The Daily Beast. The judge’s own staff have since told an investigator that the judge actually displayed his gun openly during a lawyers-only hearing and boasted about having it in his possession, according to two of those witnesses.

Hummel insisted to The Daily Beast that there was no recording of the incident to support these allegations, but two witnesses say the state investigator received a videotape of the interaction.

“You don’t understand what a horrible victimization this is,” said Lauren Varnado, the attorney who was on the podium as the judge drew his gun. “It was quite traumatic for several people. The whole process was crazy.”

“We have no power in this situation,” she said. “It was a lot scarier than just a normal person on the sidewalk. You need more power over us than you already have? This is scary because he could order us to do anything. Why would you ever need to draw a gun?”

The judge’s show of force was the culmination of months of tension between him and Varnado’s team of corporate lawyers. The Daily Beast reviewed hundreds of pages of court transcripts and spoke to several people involved.

Like many West Virginia lawsuits, it all started with fossil fuels.

“It was too stunning to even process. My brain didn’t even process it until the hearing was over. I was nervous. I don’t know if it was loaded.”

— Lauren Varnado

Until the case was recently settled, Hummel was spearheading a dispute involving West Virginia landowners who were being sued over the royalties they receive from fossil-fuel natural gas giant EQT, which mined hundreds of feet below their property became.

However, the gas company’s lawyers accused the judge of never disclosing that his parents receive royalties from the gas company that may one day be passed on to him – raising questions about a glaring conflict of interest. As the gas company’s lawyers tried to disqualify him, court records showed he grew increasingly resentful of Varnado and her team.

At an April 2021 court hearing when he was asked about his family’s gas interests, the transcript shows how the judge patronized EQT’s lawyers when he detailed his family tree and dismissed their concerns by ranting about how his cousin “Christy” got mad at him for not recognizing her at a wedding. When attempts to have him disqualified by higher state courts failed, Hummel similarly initiated the next court hearing.

“Okay. Excellent. And I’m Justice Hummel and I have no conflicts, said the Supreme Court, so here we are. And this time I don’t have to talk about my Aunt Rose’s numbers or which shoe to put on first or anything,” he said on July 19, 2021, according to another transcript.

The dispute revolved around the energy company EQT.

Photo illustration by Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty

The eventual process would always be hotly contested. EQT cut its royalties almost a decade ago, just before the energy value of the state’s natural gas production began to overtake coal. While the state has relied heavily on exports of coal and oil since the 19th century, natural gas from underground fracking of the massive Marcellus Shale promises to enrich the state.

When the two-week trial began in New Martinsville in February, locals were so angry at how the gas company had slashed its royalties in recent years that attorneys for EQT felt the need to be escorted by private security firms from the former CIA at three members of this team. But when lawyers from both sides were called to the centuries-old sandstone courthouse for a special hearing on Saturday, March 12, bailiffs at the entrance surprised legal teams with a new rule for the day.

“Just today trial attorney,” they said, according to three witnesses who spoke to The Daily Beast on condition of anonymity for fear of possible reprisals.

Varnado’s private security guard and a paralegal were turned away. The lawyers went to the courtroom on the second floor. There, according to one transcript, the judge lashed out at the gas company’s lawyers for having private guards, noting that if there were any safety concerns, “I promise you, I’ll take care of them.”

“Until recently, we were never told these people were security guards,” the judge said, according to the court record. “I’ve got this man right here carrying a man’s handbag and I make fun of him every damn day for wearing such a wimpy ass device. And I heard he’s on blood coagulants. I also have blood coagulants up here and plenty of guns. Bigger ones too.”

Hummel then pulled a black pistol from a belted leather holster beneath his robe and began waving it around the room, according to Varnado and another person in the room.

Hummel then placed it on his wooden desk known as the judge’s bench, leaving the barrel pointed at Varnado, her New York law partner David R. Dehoney, and their local West Virginia attorney, Jennifer Hicks.

The gun stayed there for the remainder of the hearing. When the lawyers were instructed to try in a private room, they returned to find the gun still there. As lawyers were forced to approach the judge, the dormant gun remained pointed at their faces.

“It’s just a violation of basic gun safety to point it at people like that,” Varnado said. “It was too stunning to even process. My brain didn’t even process it until the hearing was over. I was nervous. I don’t know if it was loaded.”

In fact, pointing a firearm at anything other than a target violates the National Rifle Association’s main rule on gun safety, which states that a barrel must always be kept away from people. And the judge appears to have broken a second rule of safe gun handling, which is to check that a firearm’s chamber is empty and clear of ammunition — and then say so out loud.

In the days following the hearing, Varnado contacted the FBI to report what had happened. But she decided to turn to the FBI in Pittsburgh, 100 miles away, for help, fearing that local law enforcement might not be trusted given the judge’s position of power and influence.

Varnado is still confident it was the right move. When The Daily Beast contacted Wetzel County Sheriff Michael L. Koontz, whose deputy is providing security outside the courthouse, the sheriff recalled a special hearing being held that Saturday morning – but denied any knowledge that the judge had drawn the gun.

However, two sources with direct knowledge say a deputy sheriff who was in the courtroom that day has since confirmed to the state investigator that the judge had his gun drawn.

When reached by phone a few weeks after the episode, Hummel initially denied that anything notable ever happened.

“There is no incident … I absolutely and categorically deny that I had a gun in the courtroom that day,” he said. “It was just me and the lawyers. I had no reason to have a gun that day… I’ve never shown anyone a gun in my courtroom. I don’t want them to know I have it. I will not show my firearm at any time during the hearing.”

“It’s not my job to protect anyone with guns,” he said. “That’s what my bailiffs and deputy sheriffs are there for.”

Minutes later, the judge called back and said he now recalled carrying a gun in a holster under his robe during last week’s trial. But it wasn’t the 1911 pistol, he said. It was a long, classic looking revolver, dating back to the days of the Wild West.

“I wore the Colt Peacemaker,” he said. “The Peacemaker never came out of the holster during this process.”

When the judge called back a third time, he admitted showing something to the attorneys in the courtroom that day. But he said it wasn’t a gun.

“I pulled out a small, red first-aid kit. But it was casual. I showed her a foiled packet and said it was blood coagulant. We have preparations for active shooter situations,” he said.

In April, a spokeswoman for the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals told The Daily Beast that she was not aware of the gun incident. And records showed that Hummel was not the subject of a warning or formal indictment.

But in the weeks since then, Judicial Investigation Commission of West Virginia investigator David Hudson has been gathering evidence of the incident and asking witnesses to describe the firearm and how they felt about it being issued by the judge, according to The Daily Beast verified communications.

In a signed affidavit presented to the investigator, Varnado, who is from Texas, described the judge’s gun as the “Colt 45,” a widely recognized handgun also known as the 1911.

The judge, his clerk, a clerk and a clerk have provided investigators with affidavits describing the day’s events, court reporter Holly A. Kocher told The Daily Beast on Wednesday.

Since March, the FBI’s Pittsburgh field office has repeatedly refused to confirm that a special agent was assigned to investigate the incident. The judge did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

The state judiciary, citing politics, declined to disclose details of the ongoing ethics investigation. But his staff pointed to his website, which indicates judges who break the rules face a year’s suspension.

https://www.thedailybeast.com/west-virginia-judge-circuit-judge-david-w-hummel-jr-pulled-a-gun-in-the-courtroom-and-then-it-got-weird?source=articles&via=rss West Virginia Judge Circuit Judge David W. Hummel Jr. pulled out a gun in the courtroom — and then things got weird

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