Former West Virginia Supreme Court justice Richard Neely announced his candidacy to return to the Mountain State’s highest court.
Neely announced his bid Wednesday during a news conference at Embassy Suites, in Charleston.
Neely retired from the Supreme Court in 1995 after serving 22 years on the bench.
Neely, 78, is a partner at the firm Neely & Callaghan, in Charleston. He earned his undergraduate degree in economics from Dartmouth College in 1964, and earned his law degree from Yale School of Law.
When he retired in 1995, Neely said he was leaving because he’d been part of the court for so long, saying, “When the stories are almost as old as the clerks, it’s time to quit.”
Neely left the Supreme Court for private practice.
“I’m cut out more for the private sector, where the objective is to satisfy customers, than I am for government, where the objective is to satisfy employees, service providers, special interests and government contractors,” Neely said when he announced his retirement.
Neely said Wednesday he retired because he felt like he’d become stale in his work.
“It seemed to me that I wasn’t learning anything and the world was rapidly changing and I ought to learn something,” he said.
Neely said Wednesday the state court system is in shambles, noting it takes an average of 27 months for the Supreme Court to process an appeal. The West Virginia judicial system has been transformed into a bureaucratic-heavy, inefficient system since the early 2000s, he said.
“What we need to do is clean house,” he said.
In addition to himself, Neely endorsed current Justice John Hutchison and Kanawha Circuit Judge Joanna Tabit “in hopes we get a majority of people who have some idea of what’s going on.”
Including Neely, six people have announced their intention to launch campaigns for three Supreme Court seats in 2020.
Neely had not filed financial disclosure forms, commonly referred to as precandidacy documents, with the Secretary of State’s Office at the time he made his announcement Wednesday.
The five people who have filed the financial disclosure forms are current justices Tim Armstead and Hutchison, along with Tabit, Kanawha Family Court Judge Jim Douglas, and Charleston attorney William Schwartz.
Neely was an early supporter of issuing bonds to replace the West Virginia Penitentiary, which the state did in the late 1980s and early 1990s. At the time he retired, Neely also was noted for things he did away from the bench.
During his news conference Wednesday, Neely said most of the comments he was noted for making were taken out of context in the media.
In an interview with radio host Hoppy Kercheval Wednesday, Neely said, “At the end of the day, voters are going to listen to what I tell them is wrong with the court system.”
“It’s sort of like Donald Trump,” he said. “Nobody asks whether Donald Trump does or doesn’t grab women from behind or make racist comments. What they want to know is, is Donald Trump going to make America great again? If they think he is going to make America great again, they don’t care about his personal life.”
Neely compared the court to the Ku Klux Klan during a 1981 speech to a local business group.
In 1985, Neely fired his government-paid court secretary when she refused to continue to babysit the justice’s 4-year-old son. Neely resigned as chief justice, a rotating position, and gave the secretary back her job. A special judicial panel gave him the least severe punishment, an admonishment, for the incident, according to a Gazette-Mail report.
In 1990, Neely told a group of boys that society would be better off if women stayed home with their children. He said drinking, womanizing and fighting in wars are alright until men have a family.
“I understand how the world has changed and how domestic relations have changed,” Neely said on Wednesday. “I still would maintain that a kid is better off with his own family than he is in some other program.”
In 1986, Neely settled a lawsuit against TWA for $12,500 after his baggage arrived 70 minutes late at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. He sought $3,000 of that as a speaker’s fee because he informed fellow passengers about the delay.
In 1993, he told a conference of teenage boys to “tape a rubber to your American Express card and don’t leave home without it.”
During oral arguments in an appeal before the Supreme Court in 1990, Neely said he “wouldn’t work within 500 yards of a person with the AIDS virus.”
Neely said Wednesday that because AIDS was introduced as a political issue instead of a public health one, information about how the disease was spread was difficult to come by.
“There wasn’t a lot of knowledge about how AIDS was transmitted,” Neely said.
In 1989, Neely said police can’t prevent crime. “It’s time for citizens like you and me to go home and get out baseball bats” to attack drug dealers, he said.
“I still don’t have any problem with that,” Neely said Wednesday of the baseball bat comment.
A term in office for a state Supreme Court justice is 12 years. A total of three seats will be up for grabs in the May 12, 2020, primary 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 out the remainder of 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. Jim Justice, in December 2018, appointed Hutchison, a former Raleigh County circuit judge, to temporarily serve on the court until the special election can take place under state law. Hutchison is eligible to seek election to complete Loughry’s term.
In August 2018, Justice appointed Armstead to temporarily sit on the court in Ketchum’s place and Justice Evan Jenkins to temporarily sit on the court in Robin Davis’ place until special elections in November 2018. Davis resigned from the court in August 2018; Ketchum resigned in July 2018.
Voters upheld Gov. Justice’s appointments in the November election, allowing Armstead and Jenkins to remain on the bench.