Experience on bench vital for a justice
This is one of a series of columns written by candidates in contested races in the West Virginia general election on Nov. 6.
I am seeking the position of justice of the Supreme Court of Appeals, running in Division I. The office I am seeking is a nonpartisan office, and I am a registered Republican living in Martinsburg, West Virginia, where I have served Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan counties as circuit judge since 1993.
Our court is in a state of crisis. The public has lost confidence in the West Virginia court system as a whole due to the proceedings that have rocked Charleston over the past few years.
As justice, I will return a sense of civility to the court system and foster cooperation among the court and the two other, equal branches of government. The recent events have also led to a growing backlog of cases to be decided by the Supreme Court, delaying justice for far too many West Virginians. My experience of over 25 years as a circuit judge in West Virginia’s largest and fastest-growing circuit will allow me to roll my sleeves up and get to work hearing cases and drafting opinions immediately.
To further support the return of public confidence in our court system, it is vital that the statewide court system be administered in an equal and equitable fashion — recognizing the needs of each distinct circuit. In my 25 years as judge, I have presided over cases in 25 counties in our state as a visiting judge. This experience has shown me that a cookie-cutter approach to administration leads to inefficiency and wasted taxpayer dollars.
The vast majority of the work performed by a Supreme Court justice is the review of the actions of circuit court judges. I believe it is vitally important that a Supreme Court justice has previous experience as a circuit court judge to better enable that justice to review the lower court’s actions. It is also important that a Supreme Court justice have the administrative experience to recognize the needs of the employees and the other judicial officers while administering the court’s budget. My experience as chief judge of the 23rd Judicial Circuit has included not only the personnel management of the state’s largest circuit but also the oversight of major construction projects in all three counties (Jefferson, Berkeley and Morgan) that have always come in on time and on or under budget.
This experience — of working with county commissions to ensure that adequate facilities are provided to the citizens to conduct their business in the halls of justice — has given me a thorough understanding of the complexities of completing court projects while always being mindful that those projects are funded by taxpayers. I will always remember that the money spent by the court belongs to the taxpayers and must be spent frugally and judiciously.
I have six times the experience as a circuit judge than all of my opponents — combined. I have stared murderers in the eye when sentencing them to life, and I have sat in the courtroom feeling the anguish of parents who have recently lost a child. If elected, I will never forget that the cases decided by any court involve real people and the results of the court’s decision leave lasting impressions upon their lives. I ask that you entrust me with your vote to go to Charleston and use my experience to stop the waste and restore integrity to our court.
Chris Wilkes, a resident of Martinsburg, is a candidate for the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals in Division 1. Judicial races in West Virginia are non-partisan.