A West Virginia judge has been accused of waving a handgun at defense lawyers, ridiculing their security team for having smaller guns than him, during a heated exchange in March over a case on fossil fuel royalties.
In a sworn affidavit submitted to the Judicial Investigation Commission of West Virginia and obtained by NBC News, attorney Lauren Varnado said Circuit Court Judge David Hummel Jr. had initially ridiculed her legal team for trying to bring a security detail into Wetzel County Courthouse in New Martinsville on March 12.
Varnado was representing EQT Production Company and Equitable Resources, now the EQT Corporation, against a lawsuit from landowners suing over royalty payments for fossil fuel extraction on their property, the affidavit said. She said her team had hired the security officers after being threatened in a restaurant in New Martinsville.
The security officers were blocked from entering the courtroom on March 12, but Hummel allegedly mocked Varnado’s team for hiring them in the first place.
“Aren’t me and my guns and security enough?” Hummel was alleged to have asked as he took out a Colt handgun and waved it in Varnado’s team’s direction. “My guns are bigger than your security’s guns!” he allegedly said.
“I could not believe it was happening,” Varnado told NBC News in a phone interview on Friday.
"As a trial lawyer, the courtroom, during a trial, it is my office. It is my workplace," she said. "When you experience violence in your workplace, it's a special kind of trauma."
Varnado said Hummel put the gun down, but appeared to deliberately rotate the gun until its barrel was pointing directly at her.
"I was like, 'This is psychotic,'" she said over the phone.
Varnado said she believed Hummel was upset with her team after they asked that he be disqualified from the case based on alleged undisclosed conflicts in a request that was denied.
Hummel's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment from NBC News.
He has previously denied any such incident occurring in his courtroom.
"There is no incident," he reportedly told The Daily Beast. "I absolutely, categorically deny I had a gun that day in the courtroom." Hummel reportedly said that he had "no reason to have a firearm that day" and said he had never shown a gun in his courtroom.
The judge reportedly later clarified to The Daily Beast that he does have a gun inside the courtroom, but he denied pulling it.
"It was secreted in a drawer on the bench. I never showed my (Colt) 1911 at the trial whatsoever — at any point during that trial," he said, according to The Daily Beast.
Varnado maintained that the incident did happen and said she was left in "total disbelief."
Teresa Tarr, counsel for the Judicial Investigation Commission of West Virginia, said the commission could neither confirm nor deny the existence of a complaint or investigation into Hummel.
Tarr said all complaints and investigations are confidential unless a formal statement of charges or an admonishment are issued.