A Kanawha family court judge and a sitting West Virginia Supreme Court justice are the latest people to pursue candidacy for the next state Supreme Court election in 2020.
Judge Jim Douglas became the fifth person to file pre-candidacy documents with the West Virginia Secretary of State’s office Thursday, and Justice John Hutchison filed the same documents on May 21.
Douglas did not specify which of the three available Supreme Court justice seats he would be pursuing, and Hutchison said he was committed to completing the unexpired term to which Gov. Jim Justice appointed him last year.
Douglas and Hutchison join the field of likely Supreme Court candidates with Justice Tim Armstead, Charleston attorney William Schwartz and Kanawha Circuit Judge Joanna Tabit, who also have filed pre-candidacy papers with the Secretary of State’s Office.
Kanawha County voters elected Douglas to the bench in 2016.
Before he was a judge, most of Douglas’ almost 40 years in private practice focused on family law. He also served as Braxton County prosecuting attorney from 1984 to 1988.
Douglas, of Charleston, notably was the prevailing attorney in a 3-2 decision from the Supreme Court in 2005 in which the court granted a woman in a same-sex relationship parental rights to a 5-year-old child she and her partner were raising before her partner’s death.
Douglas said his experience as a prosecutor and as a family law attorney and judge will be beneficial to the court, where he said four of the five justices have either no or minuscule family law experience.
“Aside from being older and having practiced all types of law over nearly the whole state and definitely longer than any other member of the current Supreme Court, save for one justice, I bring an old-fashioned work ethic to the job,” Douglas said. “I believe I owe it to the taxpayers to be on the job virtually every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.”
Douglas has bachelor’s degrees in political science and history from Morris Harvey College (now the University of Charleston). He also has a master’s degree in German history and literature from West Virginia University. He earned a law degree from WVU, as well.
Gov. Justice appointed Hutchison to the Supreme Court in December 2018 to temporarily serve until voters elected someone to serve the rest of what had been former justice Allen Loughry’s term.
Then-Gov. Gaston Caperton appointed Hutchison to the bench in Raleigh County Circuit Court in 1995, and voters kept him there in subsequent elections in 1996, 2000, 2008 and 2016.
Hutchison said his 24 years of experience on the bench would be useful because he saw how decisions at the state level were affecting the lower courts, which was a big part of why he applied to be appointed to the court last year.
“They weren’t being allowed to be innovative, looking ahead and trying to come up with different programs that confront not only the circuit, but the family and magistrate courts, as well,” Hutchison said. “I felt like if I could get up here, I could bring my toolkit, and I could at least serve as a voice for those folks. As it’s happened so far, I think we’ve made great progress.”
During the 1970s, Hutchison worked as a teacher in Raleigh County Schools and as an assistant basketball coach at Davis & Elkins College and later Concord University, according to his biography on the West Virginia Supreme Court website.
Hutchison earned a bachelor’s degree in history and political science from Davis & Elkins, and he earned a law degree from WVU.
The 2020 West Virginia Supreme Court election will be decided by voters during the primary election on May 12, 2020.
A total of three seats will be up for election, which means voters have the opportunity to elect the majority of the 5-justice court.
Two of the elections are the end of two regular terms, those of Margaret Workman and Armstead.
Workman last was elected to the court in 2008 alongside former justice Menis Ketchum. Armstead currently is serving what was Ketchum’s unexpired term.
The third election will be a special election to fill what had been former justice Allen Loughry’s unexpired term, which ends in 2024.
Gov. Justice appointed Armstead in August 2018 to temporarily sit on the court in Ketchum’s place, and he appointed Justice Evan Jenkins to temporarily sit on the court in former justice Robin Davis’ place until special court elections in November 2018.
Voters upheld Gov. Justice’s appointments in the November 2018 election, allowing Armstead to complete the rest of what had been Ketchum’s term and Jenkins to complete Davis’.
A term in office for a West Virginia Supreme Court justice is 12 years.