Does Jenkins have the background to be justice?

August 25, 2018

Is there any reason to believe a Supreme Court justice should have vast experience as a litigator? Or should he/she have served somewhere as a judge before ascending to the highest court in the state? Are West Virginia judicial races non-partisan or not?

Some attorneys expressed surprise when Rep. Evan Jenkins, the lame duck Republican congressman from the 3rd District, said he wanted to be a Supreme Court justice. Jenkins announced that he would seek appointment to fill in for resigned Justice Menis Ketchum and then seek election to the remaining six years of retired Justice Robin Davis’ term.

The surprise came when lawyers — and the public — considered that few had ever thought of Jenkins as an attorney. While he is one, with a law degree from Cumberland School of Law in Birmingham, Alabama, few remember any courtroom experience.

One well-known trial lawyer said Wednesday that his research revealed that Jenkins had actually practiced law for “about two years.” Little is said about Jenkins’ legal background on his past campaign literature. Several of those commenting on social media said the congressman has never been a judge at any level. The most recent edition of the state bar’s list says Jenkins has an “inactive” law license.

Honestly, I could get around the lack of judicial background easier than figuring out the ethical equation of Jenkins remaining a partisan congressman while seeking a non-partisan justice spot. The two seem to me to contradict each other. Jenkins, the non-partisan candidate, attended the Charleston Trump rally looking much like a partisan congressman. He has scheduled congressional meetings with constituents for weeks into the future.

How do I even inquire about the issues? Is there some way I can talk with Evan Jenkins, the non-partisan Supreme Court candidate, rather than the congressman? Or can I talk to the congressman and not the non-partisan Supreme Court candidate? There are clearly different rules for the conduct of congressmen and Supreme Court justices. Which line is Jenkins not going to cross?

Most of Jenkins’ backers point out that he has the required law degree and has been “admitted” to the state bar for more than the necessary 10 years. They insist he will resign his congressional job if — and when — Gov. Jim Justice appoints him as a justice.

In the meantime, apparently, he and his advisers dismiss the outrage felt by most West Virginians over a Supreme Court that has manipulated the system to the point of corruption. One justice is under federal indictment; another entered an information to plead guilty in federal court; and the remaining three have been impeached by the state House of Delegates.

It seems, under these circumstances, that Jenkins would want to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.

Social media was abuzz this week after a photograph showed a “Re-elect Bob Bailey” sign in an alleged Cabell County courthouse window.

Bailey told me he did not have any campaign signs in the window. “The only campaign sign that’s ever been in my office is an ‘Elect Bobby Kennedy President’ sign,” said the veteran commissioner.

Speculation immediately erupted this week when Del. Carol Miller did not lead the Pledge of Allegiance at the Trump rally. For more than a week, politicos had said Miller, the Republican candidate for congress in District 3, would be handling the honor.

Insiders quickly pointed out that Miller was not “dumped” from leading the pledge by Kanawha State Sen. Ed Gaunch. Instead, they said, Miller was asked to help officially greet the president at the airport and accompany him in his motorcade to the rally site. She had to give up the pledge leadership because, at the time, she was traveling with Trump.

Miller’s Democrat opponent, State Sen. Richard Ojeda, was said to be “livid” when Gov. Jim Justice singled him out for criticism at the rally.

Ojeda keeps saying the race is “tightening” but the famous statistician Nate Silver puts the expected outcome at 58.3 percent to 41.7 percent in favor of Miller. He says the closest Ojeda can come is to within 51.7 to 48.3 percent.

Ron Gregory is a former Glenville mayor and Charleston assistant mayor who has covered state politics for more than 40 years. He can be reached at ronjgregory@gmail.com or 304-533-5185.

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