West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Tim Armstead is the next chief justice of the Mountain State’s highest court, marking a return to a previous longstanding practice within the court.
Armstead will become chief justice on Jan. 1, 2020, amid a campaign cycle for which he’s seeking his first reelection to the bench.
Following Armstead’s year as chief justice, Justice Evan Jenkins will become chief justice in 2021 as part of the court’s return to the seniority-based rotation, the court said in a news release.
Armstead said he was honored to be chosen, and he wanted to build on current Chief Justice Beth Walker’s effort to build a more open and accessible court.
“Our judiciary is made up of many talented people who are dedicated to ensuring justice, following the law and upholding high standards of integrity,” Armstead said. “We owe it to the people of our state who have entrusted us with this responsibility to provide them a fair, efficient open and honest court system.”
Armstead, who is serving what was former justice Menis Ketchum’s unexpired term, has announced he intends to seek election to a full term in 2020.
The court does not have an official policy as to which justice serves as chief justice and how long a term is, but the court historically has practiced an annual rotation among the five justices for the position.
The five justices determine who will be chief judge and how long their tenure will be when they meet for administrative conferences, typically during conferences closer to the end of each calendar year.
In 2017, the five justices voted to extend the term of chief justice to four years and named former justice Allen Loughry the first four-year chief.
In February 2018, the other four justices voted Loughry out of the position and placed Workman in the position amid a federal investigation into the court that resulted in Loughry being convicted on 10 charges in federal court and former justice Menis Ketchum pleading guilty to federal wire fraud.
The West Virginia Legislature impeached four justices in August 2018, resulting in one impeachment trial in the Senate, which resulted in Walker receiving an admonishment in October 2018. Legal action taken by Workman lead to the halt of her and two other impeachment trials.
Walker said Monday that the five current justices had worked successfully as a team, saying she knew that “cooperation and collegiality” among them would continue.
“I am grateful to my colleagues for the opportunity to serve as Chief Justice and am confident that our important work to safeguard the integrity of our judiciary will continue under Justice Armstead’s leadership,” Walker said.
In terms of tenure, Justice Margaret Workman has the most experience, most recently having been elected in 2008. Workman also previously was elected to the court in November 1988, becoming the first woman to do so.
Chief Justice Beth Walker is next, with two years on the court, having been elected in 2016. Workman last served as chief justice between February 2018 and December 2018. Walker became chief justice effective Jan. 1, 2019.
Armstead and Jenkins have served the same amount of time on the court. Gov. Jim Justice appointed both men to the court in August 2018, and voters elected both men to complete their respective terms the following November.
Gov. Justice appointed Justice John Hutchison to the Supreme Court in December 2018.
This story has been updated to clarify Loughry's term as chief justice.