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Wood to face judge on criminal charges

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By Amanda Kelly, Staff Writer

The county’s highest-ranking official faces misdemeanor charges in Grant County District Court on Aug. 8. 

Grant County Judge-Executive Steve Wood was charged with fourth-degree assault (minor injury), harassment (physical contact with no injury) and menacing Aug. 3. Accusations came from two county attorney office employees, Grant County Attorney Joe Taylor confirmed. 

Wood allegedly “struck a victim in their shoulder, causing the victim to fall back into a doorway causing minor injury” in the Grant County Courthouse on May 10, leading to an assault charge. Taylor said that the victim in this charge was one of his employees, Rhonda Gordon. 

A second altercation accused Wood of harassing and menacing Assistant County Attorney Julie Scott Jernigan between fiscal court meetings July 16 at the Grant County Courthouse. 

Between a caucus meeting and regular court meeting, Jernigan asked Wood to speak to her in private. 

Minutes after Jernigan and Wood left the courtroom to have a private conversation, Jernigan bolted from the back room of the courtroom, saying she needed to leave and she was sorry if that meant the court couldn’t have their regular meeting. She then alleged Wood “laid a hand” on her during their private conversation. 

A day after the incident, Wood sent a complaint about Jernigan’s demeanor to Taylor via text message. 

“Julie came to the court in a really bad mood. Instead of answering only legal questions, she actively participated in our discussions and damn near took over the meeting,” Wood wrote to Taylor the day after the July 16 fiscal court meeting. “I didn’t mean to hurt her feelings, but thought I whispered to her to please keep her remarks to only legal questions. Well, between the caucus and the regular meeting, she wanted to talk to me in the hallway in the back of the building. I said OK. When we shut the door, she lit into me like I’ve never seen. She would not let me respond at all, and I tried to get my two cents in by standing in front of the door. She starting (sic) screaming and hollering very loud to let her out. I, of course, moved out of the way. Then she walks in the courtroom and continues to berate me in front of the crowd. I finished my judge’s address and asked for a motion to adjourn. Then Jac (magistrate Jacqalynn Riley) wanted to make a motion on the hiring a building inspector and I said no because I was adjourning the meeting. Julie said there was a motion on the floor and wanted to vote. I really did feel like I had done nothing wrong. She, I think, did not want to be there, and had a spur under (her) saddle from the get go. She was very unprofessional. Please don’t leave her in charge if you have to leave town.”

During the July 16 meeting, Riley made a motion to set the building inspector’s salary, and that was seconded before Wood made a motion to adjourn the meeting. Wood said “I can adjourn the meeting how I want,” and Jernigan said he could not adjourn the meeting with an active motion on the floor. Wood pressured Deputy Judge-Executive Pat Conrad to not call the roll for the vote, but Jernigan advised Conrad to call the roll for the vote because there was an active motion on the floor that needed a vote. 

Wood did not vote, and walked out of that meeting before it was officially adjourned. 

In a memorandum addressed to the fiscal court —acquired through an Open Records request — Taylor wrote he didn’t find any wrongdoing on Jernigan’s part after his investigation into Wood’s complaint. 

“Every person with whom I discussed the events of July 16, 2018 indicated that Jernigan acted in a wholly-professional manner, and I did not see or hear anything on the video or audio of the meetings that would cause me to have a different opinion,” Taylor wrote. “Rather than publicly express her displeasure with the way she was treated in the meeting, Jernigan discretely asked to have the conversation in private where they would less likely be overheard by the public. During the course of that conversation, events occurred which have once again caused me to ask the Attorney General’s Office to appoint Carroll County Attorney, Nick Marsh, as special prosecutor in order for him to review the ensuring criminal investigation and make a determination on whether to press criminal charges.”

Taylor said the county attorney’s office works for the entire fiscal court, not the judge-executive. 

“The judge-executive has no authority to dictate how I assign my employees, and to drive that point home, I will not be at the next regular fiscal court meeting Aug. 6, where my Assistant County Attorney Julie Scott Jernigan will be assuming my duties at the meeting with my full support and authority,” Taylor wrote. “Based on my investigation, the complaint against Jernigan has been proven to be unequivocally unfounded, and as far as I am concerned, her good name has been completely cleared.”

Wood’s attorney, Grant County Attorney-Elect Stephen Bates, said Wood will enter a not guilty plea during his court appearance Aug. 8. 

“We will vigorously defend him in these cases,” Bates said. “The facts will be fully exposed and will exonerate Judge Wood of any wrongdoing to these charges.”

Special Prosecutor Marsh didn’t have anything to add about the case. 

“I do not comment on active court cases that I am prosecuting,” Marsh said. “This is a policy that I try to adhere to so as to maintain the integrity of the judicial process.”

Jernigan and Gordon both declined to comment about Wood’s charges. 

Campbell County District Court Judge Karen A. Thomas was also appointed for the case as a special judge, according to Wood’s court summonses. 

Fellow fiscal court members Shawna Coldiron and Bobby Newman also declined to comment. 

Riley could not be reached for comment before press time. 

 

 

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