Essential reporting in volatile times.

Click here to stay informed and subscribe to The Charleston Gazette-Mail.

Click #isupportlocal for more information on supporting our local journalists.

Learn more about HD Media

Three seats are up for election in the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. The Division 1 and Division 2 races are for a full, 12-year term. The Division 3 race is for the unexpired term of Justice Allen Loughry, who resigned and was convicted of federal wire fraud and witness tampering charges, among others. The unexpired term is for four years. Loughry and all four other justices on the court were facing impeachment amid a scandal alleging frivolous spending and illegal use of state vehicles and property. Two other justices resigned in 2018. Supreme Court races are non-partisan.

Division 1Tim Armstead (Incumbent)

Education: University of Charleston, bachelor’s degree; West Virginia University, juris doctor

Occupation: Chief Justice, West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals

Q: What would you do to improve the public’s faith in its highest court?

A: West Virginians deserve justices they can trust. In the past 18 months, I have worked hard to restore the people’s trust in our Supreme Court. We have taken important steps to ensure our court system is held to high ethical standards, including adopting or updating policies governing spending and purchasing processes, and use of vehicles, equipment and furniture. We have provided transparency and openness relating to the court system’s budget and operations. We have streamlined the judiciary’s budget, returning $10 million back to the Legislature to assist our citizens in 2019 and producing a budget for the upcoming fiscal year that is $4 million less than the court system’s budget five years ago. As a fiscal conservative, I have a long history of watching out for the taxpayers and ensuring that their hard-earned money is not wasted. We still have work to do, but I believe our court is more open, accountable and efficient than ever before. Each day we do our work with honesty, integrity, openness and a commitment to upholding our Constitution and the rule of law, is one day closer to fully regaining the trust of our fellow West Virginians. I am committed to doing so.

Q: What, in your view, is the biggest issue facing the court at this time, and how would you address it?

A: It is crucial that we continue our work in restoring confidence and trust in our court and I believe we have made tremendous progress in doing so. In addition to regaining the people’s faith in their court, we must also continue to address the devastating impact the opioid crisis in our state has had on our children and families. Children are suffering each day in communities across our state and our court system plays a key role in helping these most vulnerable victims. We must continue to work with the Legislature and DHHR to provide courts the tools they need to protect and help our children. Certainly, in many cases, children must be permanently removed from abusive homes to protect their health and well-being. However, there are situations where, with the right treatment and assistance, families can be restored and reunited. Last year, the court worked with the Legislature to create new Family Treatment Courts throughout our state. These courts provide a community-based approach to help reunite families in appropriate situations and ensure that our children can be raised in safe, healthy and loving homes. We must continue this vital work to protect our state’s children.

Richard Neely

Education: Dartmouth College, bachelor’s degree; Yale Law School, juris doctor

Occupation: Attorney

Q:. What would you do to improve the public’s faith in its highest court?

A: Eliminate the inordinate delay in the processing of appeals by returning to the procedure required by Art. 8, Sec. 4 of the state Constitution. Relieve the circuit courts in the urban counties of abuse and neglect cases by recruiting a corps of “special masters” who would be lawyers trained as undergraduates in such fields as psychology, sociology, nursing, education, etc. who would have the time and interest to give these cases the attention they deserve. The primary object of this would be to make quick and competent decisions about whether it is possible to rehabilitate the birth home to facilitate getting these children into forever homes as quickly as possible.

Q:. What, in your view, is the biggest issue facing the court at this time, and how would you address it?

A: Inordinate delay and lack of quality control of the entire court system. The Supreme Court is vested by the Constitution with a supervisory power it does not use. Cases languish for months or even years awaiting decisions on simple motions, such as motions to dismiss.

David Hummel

Occupation: Circuit judge in Marshall, Wetzel and Tyler counties (West Virginia’s second circuit)

Education: Marshall University, bachelor’s degree; University of Oklahoma, juris doctor

Judge Hummel could not be reached in time to fill out a questionnaire. Here is an excerpt of his interview with Gazette-Mail editors:

“I run an efficient, effective circuit court and what I’ve built shows the type of Supreme Court Justice I will be. I’m not loved by plaintiffs any more than the defense. This is an unprecedented election as it will decide the majority of the court. I think anyone who would look at my record would be satisfied that I am qualified and treat everyone the same.”

Division 2Incumbent Margaret Workman is not seeking reelection.

Joanna I. Tabit

Education: Marshall University, B.B.A. in Business Management; West Virginia University College of Law, juris doctor

Occupation: Circuit judge, Kanawha County (13th Judicial Circuit)

Q: What would you do to improve the public’s faith in its highest court?

A: As a lifelong West Virginian, I am running for the Supreme Court to improve life for all West Virginians. Now, more than ever, our Supreme Court needs proven, qualified judges — judges with experience at the circuit court level. As a circuit judge in the state’s largest and busiest county, I have the experience, integrity and fairness to improve the public confidence and faith in the judiciary. As a justice, I would continue to embody the principles and work ethic I have as a circuit judge.

My vision for the court is simple. Our court should be fair, effective, accessible and accountable.

To be fair, the court should respect the dignity of every person, regardless of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, or any other defining characteristic and apply the law thoughtfully to the circumstances of each case.

To be effective, the court should uphold the rule of law and apply rules and procedures consistently, timely and with finality. To be accessible, the court should be understandable, convenient, timely and affordable to all persons.

Finally, the court must be accountable. The court must be transparent in its purchasing and spending. Simply, the court must be accountable to the people it serves.

Q: What, in your view, is the biggest issue facing the court at this time, and how would you address it?

A: Our court system is experiencing unforeseen challenges stemming from the drug epidemic. The drug crisis has drastically affected every facet of our courts, including magistrate courts, family courts, circuit courts and probation services. An overwhelming majority of criminal cases are substance abuse-related, whether they are drug crimes or crimes committed to fuel addiction.

Our circuit courts are inundated with abuse/neglect cases, virtually all of which have a substance abuse component. These cases are critically important, as the family is the foundation of our society and these cases appropriately take precedent over other matters.

William R. “Bill” Wooton

Education: Marshall University, bachelor’s degree; WVU College of Law, juris doctor

Occupation: Lawyer

Q: What would you do to improve the public’s faith in its highest court?

A: In view of the recent history of profligate spending of the part of the Supreme Court, the current court must ensure that no component of the judicial system can even be suspected of wasting taxpayer dollars. To achieve this goal the court should adopt complete transparency with regard to all spending, including detailed accounting for all travel expenditures, for any reimbursement to members of the judicial branch and for all expenditures related to offices, office furnishings and office equipment. Absolute transparency with regard to all judicial branch spending is an absolutely essential step toward restoring the public’s faith in its highest court.

“Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion.” Just as Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion, a judicial officer must avoid even the appearance of impropriety.

The Caesar’s wife principle is embodied in Rule 1.2 of the West Virginia Code of Judicial Conduct, which provides: “A Judge shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary, and shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.”

Rigid adherence to this portion of the Code of Judicial Conduct is likewise essential to restoring the public’s faith in our highest court.

Q: What, in your view, is the biggest issue facing the court at this time, and how would you address it?

A: The biggest issue facing the court (and our nation) at this time is the COVID-19 pandemic. I believe that issue is being dealt with by the court in a fair, efficient and effective manner.

The public’s faith in its highest court has been shaken by events over the last several years, and restoring the public’s faith in the court is a significant issue — an issue that must be addressed over time with absolute transparency regarding the expenditure of taxpayer dollars, and with rigid adherence to the Code of Judicial Conduct.

The other major issue facing our court is the opioid crisis that afflicts West Virginia. The opioid crisis has a major impact on our judicial system, accounting for a significant percentage of the criminal cases in our state, and an even larger percentage of the abuse and neglect cases that consume a major portion of the time of our Circuit Court judges. While the opioid crisis must be dealt with primarily by the executive and legislative branches of government, the judicial branch can contribute in a limited way to its solution through efforts like drug courts and veteran’s courts.

Kristina “Kris” Raynes

Education: Marshall University, bachelor’s degree; University of Akron School of Law, juris doctor

Occupation: Assistantprosecuting attorney, Putnam County

Q: What would you do to improve the public’s faith in its highest court?

A: Accountability and transparency are the two most important issues facing the “new” Supreme Court of Appeals in West Virginia. As a prosecuting attorney for 20 years, I have built a career on holding people accountable for their actions. In turn, I believe the Supreme Court should be held accountable by the other branches of government as well as to the citizens of West Virginia. The brilliance of the founders of our state and federal constitutions was the concept of “checks and balances” to ensure that no one branch of government became more powerful than the others. Until recently in West Virginia, our Supreme Court lost sight of that concept. It became unregulated by the executive and legislative branches and in turn became so powerful that it imploded. I would adhere to the original intent of the framers to promote a more transparent Supreme Court both theoretically and constitutionally. I would welcome oversight from the legislative auditors to ensure that the court is held, at a minimum, to the standards of other state agencies, if not higher. Accountability has been the foundation of my career as a prosecutor. I will make that a priority on the Court.

Q: What, in your view, is the biggest issue facing the court at this time, and how would you address it?

A: The biggest issues facing the Supreme Court and West Virginia in general are twofold: the opioid crisis and the abuse/neglect of young children. Opioid addiction is responsible for about 85% of the criminal cases I prosecute each year. If I am not prosecuting people for using opioids, I am prosecuting them for selling them, stealing for them, driving under the influence of them or abusing or neglecting their children because of them. Because of the foster parent shortage in this state, we may be perpetuating a cycle of neglecting our children by creating more adults seeking an escape through drugs. The Supreme Court was instrumental in facilitating drug/treatment courts, but I believe it could do more. Participants seem to thrive within the structure of the programs while they are there. However, the graduates of the programs sometimes eventually drift back into the bad habits of addiction — which is a common part of recovery. I believe the Court should be more involved in the aftercare of the drug/treatment court graduates. A more intense focus on drug counseling and developing job skills, with an increased level of supervision after their graduation from drug/treatment court, will assist addicts in their success in recovery.

Jim Douglas

Education: University of Charleston, bachelor’s degree; West Virginia University, master’s degree and juris doctor

Occupation: Family judge, Kanawha County

The following is an excerpt from Douglas’ HD Media questionnaire

Q: What changes would you like to see to the state’s court system?

A: Priority should be given family law cases in the decision process of the WVSCA. Children, grandparents and parents should not have to wait. Also, pay homage to the predictability function of the law; i.e., be aware of and apply precedent. Finally, the court should require annual domestic violence and LGBTQ sensitivity training for all judges.

Q: How would you prioritize budget allocations for the court system (e.g., family court, drug court)?

A: Foster families should be fully funded through the WVSCA rather than through the Legislature. Guardians ad Litem should be restored adequate funding. Counseling for children of addicted parents should be initiated. Training for grandparent Guardians should be created. In all Family Court Circuits, daycare centers should be established and one mandatory Saturday court per month should be funded.

Division 3John A. Hutchison (Incumbent)

Education: Davis & Elkins College, bachelor’s degree; WVU College of Law, juris doctorate

Occupation: Justice on the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals

Q:. What would you do to improve the public’s faith in its highest court?

A: I’m running for the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals because we must restore confidence in a judiciary wracked by scandal and tainted by politics. We must elect men and women who have the experience, temperament and vision to serve fairly and impartially on the high court. In my 24 years as a circuit court judge I’ve always believed in the importance of abiding by the Code of Judicial Conduct and avoiding not only conflicts of interests but even the appearance of a conflict of interests. It’s important going forward that the court operates transparently, especially when it comes to financial matters and works to ensure that the court budget is spent responsibly and effectively. When elected I will continue to push for open and transparent policy statements so that the public will know what the court is supposed to be doing and how they are doing it. I would also work to implement a more uniform bail system and a less adversarial decision-making process in abuse and neglect cases.

Q: What, in your view, is the biggest issue facing the court at this time, and how would you address it?

A: The biggest issue facing the court right now is clearly the public health crisis caused by COVID-19. This crisis has effectively shut down our economy and altered our everyday way of life. Unfortunately, the virus has not stopped criminals from committing crimes, children from being abused and people from becoming the victims of domestic violence. The Supreme Court is responsible for the administration of the entire judicial system in West Virginia, and as such we have implemented procedures to protect our court personnel and everyone involved in the judicial process while allowing emergency matters to be addressed. These include domestic violence petitions, child abuse and neglect cases, infant guardianship, custody cases, criminal appearances, and search warrants to name a few.

Once this crisis has passed, I want to see the court move proactively to reduce recidivism by expanding special courts such as the Adult and Juvenile drug court, family treatment courts and service members courts. Also, I want the courts to partner with law enforcement and schools to keep our kids in the classroom and out of the courtroom.

William Schwartz

Occupation: Attorney

Education: St. John’s University, bachelor’s degree; Washington & Lee University, juris doctor

Q: What would you do to improve the public’s faith in its highest court?

A: I think the public’s faith in our Supreme Court was practically destroyed by the $32,000 couch debacle and everything that followed along with the image of our state to the nation. I think we need a taxpayer among the robes and it’s why I’m running. Clearly the robes warped the perspective of some prior justices so we don’t need more of them or politicians and I’m neither. I’m not just an award winning lawyer with over 32 years experience representing people and small businesses in West Virginia but I ran a firm and paid taxes that our court disrespected. My goal is me in black robes on the court demanding to see the account books.

Q: What, in your view, is the biggest issue facing the court at this time, and how would you address it?

A: The biggest issue facing the court now along with its image problem is not the need for intermediary court with the unnecessary expense and delay, but the opioid crisis and its fallout. Money can be better spent on drug courts and family courts dealing with 7,000 children in state custody. But I don’t think the out of state money that may come into this campaign will focus on that and that’s unfortunate, as our brain drain and population decline continues.

Lora Dyer

Education: Marshal University, bachelor’s degree; West Virginia University College of Law, juris doctor

Occupation: Circuit judge, 5th Judicial Circuit

Q: What would you do to improve the public’s faith in its highest court?

A: In my role as circuit judge, I never forget my solemn oath to uphold the Constitution. As part of that oath, I strive to treat every single case as the most important one I will hear. I also am mindful that a judge’s role in our constitutional system is to follow the law, not create the law and to rule promptly, fairly and impartially. I have worked very hard to be a good and faithful public servant. As a public servant, I created the Jackson County Drug Court, initiated programs to tackle truancy, and worked with local churches and organizations to find solutions to the drug crisis.

If I am blessed to be elected to the West Virginia Supreme Court, I hope to expand on the programs that I initiated in Jackson County. I also would stress that the entire judiciary from the administrative staff, clerks, magistrate courts, family courts, circuit courts and Supreme Court are all part of one team. As part of that team, I would strive to improve communication throughout the judiciary and to ensure the public feels the judiciary is responsive to their needs as it relates to the courts, especially the state’s highest court.

Q: What, in your view, is the biggest issue facing the court at this time, and how would you address it?

A: My main concern is the children in the state. As a circuit judge, I see the horrors of the drug epidemic on our children every day. In Jackson County alone, there are 300 children in active abuse and neglect cases in my court. In the state, there are approximately 7,000 in foster care, and West Virginia is currently second in the nation for grandparent adoptions. This is a nonpartisan election. I’ve yet to see a child sit in a chair and spout their politics; what they’re concerned about are issues we should all be concerned about, and they expect us to be the adults.

As a mother, I know childhood is fleeting. If government is moving slowly, as government tends to do, childhood is being lost. Children love their parents, and I want to keep families together, but it’s not something the judiciary can do alone. People often talk about experience. I have the experience, but being a justice, you are the leader of the judiciary. Communication skills, where I excel, with the other branches and communicating with people — churches, businesses, are as important as writing opinions. Connecting those voices to address the state’s challenges are the biggest issue facing the court.