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Six apply for Kanawha family judge position

Six attorneys applied to be appointed Kanawha County Family Court judge when Mike Kelly retires Aug. 31.

James Wilson Douglas, Erica N. Lord, Laura J. Straley, Lera K. VanMeter, Darlene Ratliff Washington and R. Joseph Zak filled out applications with the state Judicial Vacancy Advisory Commission.

The commission will interview the attorneys and recommend three to five names to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, who will make an appointment.

Douglas is an attorney in Sutton; Zak is a divorce lawyer in Charleston. Both men are considered top-ranked divorce attorneys, according to previous Gazette reports. In 1994, the men were among four lawyers in the state to belong to the prestigious American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers

Lord is has been an assistant Kanawha County prosecutor for five years. She helped Kelly create the county’s domestic violence pilot program and assists with the juvenile drug court. Lord prosecutes all of Kanawha’s child pornography related charges.

Straley is an attorney in Danville, who works with the state Bureau for Child Support Enforcement.

VanMeter is a former assistant Mingo County prosecutor. She is now an attorney in Kanawha County and focuses on divorces, car accidents, wills and deeds. She has been recognized for her work as a guardian ad litem, or a lawyer appointed to the court to protect the interests of children and others who cannot do so for themselves.

Ratliff, an assistant attorney general, often represents the state Department of Health and Human Resources. She was appointed a family law master in 1994. In 2001, family court judges replaced family law masters after voters amended the state Constitution to allow the Legislature to create a family court.

Ratliff lost by about 200 votes in the 2008 election to Kanawha Family Judge Mark Snyder. She is a former president of the Mountain State Bar Association, the nation’s oldest black bar association.

Interviews will be held Aug. 22 in Charleston, said Deb Scudiere, chairwoman of the vacancy commission.

Kelly, a Democrat, has served as family judge in Kanawha for 13 years. Whoever is appointed will finish his eight-year term, which ends in 2016.

Reach Kate White at, 304-348-1723 or @KateLWhite on Twitter.

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