Voters must make sense of court election

October 13, 2018

This is one of a series of columns written by candidates in contested races in the West Virginia general election on Nov. 6.

The West Virginia Supreme Court has been embroiled in more controversy and in the news more than any time in our state’s history.

The individual justices, as well as the court itself, have brought unwanted attention and shame to the judiciary of West Virginia.

The West Virginia Legislature’s manner of dealing with the issues created by Supreme Court has also left a bad taste in most West Virginians’ mouth.

The manner in which Gov. Justice handled the temporary appointment of two longtime Republican politicians to be temporary justices “could not have been handled any worse from the standpoint of the crisis that this state is in politically and constitutionally,” said Circuit Judge Russell Clawges, while he was serving as a Supreme Court justice to hear a petition related to this election.

Voters in West Virginia have the opportunity to restore trust and credibility to the Supreme Court, but it is critical that voters understand this election.

There are 20 candidates running in two divisions, 10 in each. Division 1 is for a term that lasts two years, and Division 2 is for a term that lasts six years. Each division runs statewide and voters will vote for one candidate in each.

Voters also must understand what qualities to look for in a candidate. One of the most important requirements is experience.

While the West Virginia Constitution does not require a candidate to have prior experience as a circuit court judge, it is the most valuable experience one can have.

Being a judge requires a different skill set and way of thinking than a lawyer or politician would have. A judge has to be able to listen and consider the viewpoints of both sides of a case, and to give proper credit to the law and facts before them.

West Virginia does not have time for our Supreme Court justices to receive on-the-job training, given its current judicial crisis. West Virginia needs to elect people who already have experience in knowing how to do the job.

Another factor is the judicial temperament of candidates. The power of someone putting on a judicial robe can be overwhelming to some. Many otherwise fine lawyers have been overcome by the power of the robe, as seen by the federal felony plea of former Justice Ketchum. The power of the robe can also swell a person’s ego to the point that they become a despot, as seen by Justice Loughry’s actions since he was elected to the bench. Likewise, judicial temperament should be devoid of politics.

This is an election that should not be decided on catchy slogans, funny television commercials or name recognition. The voters need to take a few moments to actually research the candidates.

One way is for voters to speak to their friends and neighbors who are involved in the legal system, whether they are judges, lawyers, magistrates, police and probation officers, paralegals or legal assistants.

The most powerful research tool available to the voters is the internet. While some of the candidates do have social media pages and campaign sites, which do have useful information, a voter should trust independent research about the candidates, rather than solely what the candidates want you to know.

If voters would take a few minutes to read news articles about the candidates, read about programs they have started or expanded, find out if the candidates have any ethical issues in their past and any awards or recognition that the candidates might have received for their work in the legal and judiciary community, they would be a well-informed voter. A well-informed voter will make a proper choice at the ballot box that will go a long way in restoring the trust and confidence in our West Virginia Supreme Court.

William S. Thompson, a resident of Madison and a judge in the 25th Judicial Circuit (Boone/Lincoln counties), is a candidate for the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, Dvision 2.

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