Bill would make judge elections nonpartisan

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Legislation for nonpartisan election of judges will be up for a passage vote Wednesday in the House of Delegates, after delegates rejected an amendment its sponsor said would make the elections truly impartial.

The bill (HB2010) would set nonpartisan elections of Supreme Court, circuit court, family law judges and magistrates during May primaries — a change that has long been advocated by Republican legislators who, until this year, lacked the votes for passage.

Delegates rejected Tuesday an amendment by Delegate Tim Manchin, D-Marion, to expand a public campaign financing pilot project for Supreme Court elections to also include circuit court elections.

“Without this amendment, we will leave in place the greatest threat to impartiality there is,” Manchin said, referring to judges who are beholden to large campaign contributors.

Manchin said the state was “nationally humiliated” by Supreme Court Justice Brent Benjamin’s failure to recuse himself from cases involving Massey Energy, after Massey CEO Don Blankenship had spent millions on an independent-expenditure campaign on Benjamin’s behalf.

Manchin also noted the one candidate who has participated in the public campaign financing option to date, Justice Allen Loughry, won election to the high court.

House Judiciary Chairman John Shott, R-Mercer, called Manchin’s proposal “a good idea for another time,” but said it would overly complicate the intent of the nonpartisan election bill.

Delegate Frank Deem, R-Wood, objected to public financing of elections.

“I want to know who’s giving money to the candidates, so I know where that candidate is coming from,” Deem said, adding, “I want to know who’s supporting the candidate I’m voting for.”

Manchin’s amendment was rejected on a mostly party-line 67-31 vote.

Also Tuesday, the House:

n Advanced to passage stage a bill to reinstate the open and obvious doctrine, which would give property owners immunity from liability suits for people injured by hazards that were open, obvious or reasonably apparent (SB13).

One of several legal tort bills advocated by the new Republican majority in the Legislature, the House amended the bill to provide a limited exception from immunity in cases when the hazard or danger on the property also constitutes a violation of state law.

n Advanced to amendment stage a perennial bill to allow individuals with concealed weapons permits to have loaded firearms in vehicles parked on the state Capitol grounds (HB2128).

The current version of the bill would require that the vehicles be locked and that the firearms be stored out of view of passers-by.

In past years, legislators have conceded they have violated the current prohibition on firearms anywhere on the Capitol grounds by having guns in their cars parked at the Capitol.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com, 304-348-1220 or follow @PhilKabler on Twitter.

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