The Gazette-Mail is endorsing Richard Neely for the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Division 1 race.
The fiascos that beset the court in recent years led to an inordinate shift, after the Legislature tried to impeach all five justices and three resigned, with former Chief Justice Allen Loughry winding up in federal prison. Gov. Jim Justice appointed three new members to the court, two of whom are career politicians with no prior courtroom experience as attorneys or judges.
One of those appointments was former House Speaker Tim Armstead, who is running for reelection in the same division with Neely and David Hummel, a judge in the state’s 2nd Judicial Circuit.
It is of utmost importance that the court is depoliticized and the public’s trust in its high court is restored. Neely previously served on the Supreme Court for 22 years and has become an experienced attorney since leaving the judiciary in 1995. Hummel has extensive judicial experience, as well, and is worth consideration. He has been an effective and dedicated judge and would serve West Virginia well as a justice on the high court.
The upcoming election is of vital importance, as three justices will be elected, two to 12-year terms and one to an unexpired four-year term. With judicial races now nonpartisan, in name if not nature, all these races will be decided in the primary election. These decisions will shape the court for possibly a generation. And, given the power the court wields, this election will shape some of the most important decisions regarding the future of West Virginia.
That’s why it’s important that cases are considered by judges with experience and intimate knowledge of applicable law and legal precedent, along with negligible political influence or leanings. Neely is best-suited for that role.
The former justice wound up on the Supreme Court after pursuing a political career. At 31, Neely was, at the time, the youngest Supreme Court justice in state or national history. He was part of a lean and efficient court. The current Supreme Court could use reshaping in that direction, with Neely now a wizened mentor.
It’s true that Neely, like many other justices, has made mistakes. But he’s had time to consider and learn from them. He is the right choice to help restore and mold the high court into an accessible, apolitical forum that serves West Virginians, rather than political interests within or outside the state.