Q&A with West Virginia’s Supreme Court Candidates
The candidate questions were as follows:
1 — Is the current makeup of the state Supreme Court one of balance? If so, please say why you feel this way. If not, how can you tilt the scales so that it is balanced?
2 — What is the primary function of the state Supreme Court as you envision it and what would your membership on the bench to do help fulfill that?
3 — Should West Virginia’s highest court be one of activism, or merely confine itself to ruling on issues of law as spelled out in the State Code and Constitution? Please explain.
4 — Why should voters elect you?
1. It is certainly a more harmonious court than in years past as is evidenced by the great number of 5-0 decisions that it hands down. However, I think my experience as a former legislator, charged with making law, and as a circuit court Judge charged with enforcing law, I would bring a unique and much needed perspective to the court.
2. The primary function of the court is spelled out in Article VIII, Section 3 of the West Virginia Constitution which makes clear that the court shall have appellate jurisdiction in civil cases, in civil cases in equity and in cases involving personal freedom or the constitutionality of law. In addition, the court has appellate jurisdiction in criminal cases and shall promulgate rules and have supervisory control over all the lower courts in the state. I am uniquely qualified to help fulfill those constitutional mandates because of my experience as an attorney, legislator and Circuit Court Judge.
3. Judges are charged with interpreting the law rather than making the law. However, having said that, the definition of judicial activism is often simply a decision that runs contrary to the position a group or an individual wants the court to take.
4. Because I'll be a Justice that will work hard to see that violent criminals get the swift punishment they deserve. Furthermore, I will work to see that both the poorest citizen and the mightiest corporation stand equal in the eyes of the court. I will evenhandedly apply the law rather than make law and I will put justice and fairness before politics and ideology. Justice must be blind.
1. For a balanced court, the public must have confidence that the judges are impartial and free from conflicts. This is the one area in which our Court lacks balance because there is no mechanism for the Supreme Court to remove a justice who lacks the impartiality necessary to make a decision perceived as fair. In the 2008 A.T. Massey case, the United States Supreme Court found that the failure of a justice to remove himself created a risk of bias, and violated the United States Constitution. Three years later, the West Virginia Supreme Court has still not fixed its rules. My Balanced Court Initiative, see www.chafin2012.com, will provide a mechanism to assure that the full Court can review conflicts of interest and ensure impartial judges.
2. The Supreme Court is the head of the judicial branch of government. Its primary function is to assure the judgments in the courts of this State are both fair and perceived as fair. I would fulfill that function by ensuring that my rulings were based on the rule of law not the identity of the parties. I would also advocate for rules and procedures that give litigants and the public the confidence that West Virginia's courts give everyone a level playing field to resolve their disputes. Finally, I would advocate for openness and transparency to give litigants and the public the ability to judge for themselves whether the Court is meeting these goals.
3. I believe that that the West Virginia Constitution and the laws passed by the Legislature are the primary sources of law that the Court must use to reach its decisions. I do not believe that the judicial branch is free to ignore or change legislation when the statute or constitutional provision is clear. The cases that reach the West Virginia Supreme Court, however, often involve questions not clearly answered by these primary sources. In those cases, the judiciary has the obligation to interpret the provisions in a manner that is faithful to the aims and purposes of the laws and the Constitution.
4. For over 15 years, I practiced at a law firm in Southern West Virginia where I am the firm's managing partner. My varied practice includes representing businesses and individuals in all levels from Magistrate Court to the West Virginia Supreme Court. In 2010, I served as President of the West Virginia State Bar. During my presidency, I visited every county courthouse in the State of West Virginia to meet with lawyers to find out how to improve the legal profession in our State. Those visits gave me great perspective on the diversity of the State and the needs of our legal system. I serve on several non-profit organizations including the Marshall University Board of Governors, the Education Alliance Board and the Children's Home Society Board.
1. The Court is indeed balanced, stable and much more predictable than in years past. I have served with 13 different Justices in the 15 years I've had the privilege to sit on the Supreme Court, and my colleagues and I are not driven by any agenda but that of ruling in accord with the rule of law. This fact is acknowledged by many groups throughout the state, including the State Chamber of Commerce and labor organizations.
2. The functions of the Supreme Court are simple: to comply with the Constitution and to follow the rule of law. The more than 2,000 decisions in which I have participated while a member of the Court demonstrate my adherence to the rule of law without regard to any particular agenda. It has been noted by many groups, including both business and labor, that while my decisions may not have favored their side, they knew the decision was fair and supported by the law.
3. Again, the primary functions of the Supreme Court are to comply with the Constitution and follow the rule of law. That being said, however, there is certainly a place for the members of the Court to step off the bench, so to speak, and help improve our state. A good example of this is the state-wide truancy initiative I've led for nearly a year. While I am unaware of another state where such a program was led by a member of the Court, it has already produced results in demonstrably lower rates of truancy. I'm proud to be involved with a program that will help our young people and our state.
4. Voters should elect me based on my record of fairness, my work ethic and my experience. My colleagues on the Court have selected me as Chief Justice five times - a full one-third of the time I've served on the Court - and I believe that speaks to my leadership abilities. The balance, stability and predictability the Court has achieved is important to businesses seeking to expand or locate in West Virginia, and groups ranging from the State Chamber of Commerce to the American Federation of Teachers — WV have recognized my contributions to our Court in that regard. I am deeply humbled by the voters' confidence in allowing me to serve West Virginia, and I would appreciate their continued confidence in my service.
1. The Supreme Court is fairly well balanced. However, given the fact that TWO justices will be elected in 2012, while there are only five justices on the Supreme Court, the selection of those justices can result in a seismic shift in the result of every case that the Court will consider during the next decade. As an attorney working at the Court for the past nine years, who also spent seven years arguing before the Court as a Senior Assistant Attorney General, I have worked with every current justice at the Court. In all, I have worked with more than twenty justices at the West Virginia and Ohio supreme courts. I will work hard to make sure that people have confidence in the judicial system.
2. The primary function of the Supreme Court is to act as a separate branch of state government in interpreting the state and US Constitutions. It is the highest court in the state court system. It is an appellate court and does not hold trials. The supreme court has the responsibility of correcting errors from the lower courts and also deciding issues that originate in the supreme court. I envision my membership on the bench as helping to have a justice system that is not influenced by the legislative and executive branches or by pressure from special interest groups. I will stand against activist judges and will strictly represent the people of West Virginia and the judiciary with honor, integrity, and high ethical standards.
3. Judges should not be activists. In fact, the central issue of my campaign is that judges and justices should simply follow the laws as written and follow the U.S. and West Virginia Constitutions. Judges should not act as legislators and should respect the other two branches of government. We should have legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government and not legislative, executive, and a super legislative branch. Justices are elected to interpret the laws, not legislate from the bench. When a judiciary is perceived as impartial, the judicial system serves as a safeguard of the people's rights and freedoms.
4. I have practiced law at the Supreme Court for the past nine years and am very familiar with how the Court works. I have reviewed thousands of documents and petitions that have been before the Supreme Court. Prior to that, I was a Senior Assistant Attorney General and argued cases at all levels of the state and federal system, including more than twenty cases before the Supreme Court. I was a Direct Aide to Governor Gaston Caperton and was a Special Assistant to a US Congressman. I have four separate law degrees from American University, The Washington College of Law; The University of London; and from Capital University as well as studying law at the University of Oxford. I also have a B.S. from WVU.
1. Depending upon what you mean by a balanced court, I believe the current court is balanced in the sense that the justices have mutual respect for each other and the differences they may have. They do not always argree on how cases should be resolved, but they do not attack each other personally because of such disagreements.
2. The function of the court is to decide whether every case brought to it as an appeal, was resolved fairly and consistent with the applicable law or laws. This same function exists, i.e., resolving cases fairly, for those issues that are brought under the original jurisdiction of the court. I believe that my experience will be invaluable in making certain that the court does stray beyond the issues presented by each case.
3. The role of any court should be that of applying and resolving issues consistent with the law. My definition of an activist court is one where a decision is made that is contrary to a strict application of the law, because the court does not like the outcome dictated by the law. As a general rule, an activist court is bad for the law and society as a whole.
4. I spent the past 16 years working with the legal staff of the Supreme Court. I believe my experience would be a tremendous asset for the court. Further, as the author of 15 law-related books, including three legal encyclopedias, I believe the breadth of my legal knowledge demonstrates that I am qualified to handle the complex issues that are brought to the court.
H. John Rogers
1. There are too many Republicans from Ohio on the Court indebted to Massey Coal’s Don Blankenship.
2. To balance the scales of justice. They are presently skewed towards the 1 percent.
3. Our Court has been “activist” in protecting property rights but negligent in enforcing the rights of individuals and small businesses.
4. I am the only candidate of either party running for the Supreme Court who is not a millionaire, married to a millionaire, a full-time government employee with full benefits, or some combination thereof. I come from the 99 percent.
1. The current West Virginia Supreme Court is both balanced and fair. The Justices work together as a team to render decisions that are well-thought out, and within the parameters of the State Constitution. They value each other's opinions, and approach their working relationships with collegiality. It was not long ago the Court lacked mutual respect for individual Justice's opinions, and rendered decisions outside the mainstream of judicial decisions across the country. As a result, West Virginia was unlike the rest of the U.S. and we suffered loss of economic development … and jobs. With the retirement of former Circuit Judge Tom McHugh, I believe my perspective as a 16-year Circuit Court Judge would maintain the current balance and fairness on the Court.
2. The primary function of the West Virginia Supreme Court, and one, which must be closely guarded against misuse, is to interpret the law, and resist the urge to create law. I have been a circuit judge for 16 years, and have always exercised a common sense, no nonsense approach to the administration of justice. My experience as a circuit court judge will enhance the court's perspective on the issues of the day: (1) the drug abuse epidemic and its affect on West Virginia families; (2) child neglect and abuse cases brought on primarily as a result of the drug abuse epidemic: and, (3) the ever-increasing problem of school drop-outs, which lead to a host of societal problems including unemployment, child abuse and often incarceration.
3. It is paramount to the separation of powers sections of both the U.S. Constitution and the West Virginia Constitution that the Court never embraces activism … that function resides exclusively with the legislative and executive branches. The court's primary job is to interpret the law as provided for in the State Constitution. Activism has no place in the judicial branch. Not so long ago, the West Virginia Supreme Court was an activist court and, as such, cost West Virginia dearly in terms of economic development, jobs, etc. Our court system must be in the mainstream of judicial activity, or we run the risk again of being so different that job creators shun us and our citizens are left to suffer the consequences.
4. I have been a circuit judge for 16 years serving the residents of Greenbrier and Pocahontas Counties, and, prior to that, a four-term member of the West Virginia House of Delegates, where I chaired the Judiciary Committee and served as Majority Leader. My experience and common sense — no nonsense approach to being a judge will serve the West Virginia Supreme Court well. No other candidate can match my experience. As the Court loses retiring Justice Tom McHugh, it is imperative that his replacement have the circuit court experience and understanding he brought to the Court. Over the course of Justice McHugh's long tenure, the Court has benefitted greatly from his bench experience. I will bring that same perspective and understanding to the Court.
1. No, it is not. First, it only represents the Charleston area. Nearly all five justices currently serving on the West Virginia Supreme Court are from Charleston. Four are from Charleston, and one is from Huntington. The Charleston area (Kanawha County) only makes up about 10 percent of the State’s population. Charleston loves to impose the values of the political class and its views on the rest of the State. The other 90 percent of the State deserves fair representation too. As someone who is not from Charleston I will bring geographical balance.
Second, there is also an imbalance on the liberal vs. conservative spectrum. As a conservative I will bring more balance to help ensure that the court is not an activist court that makes social policy.
2. The primary function is to review decisions of the lower courts to make sure that the law is applied consistently by judges across the State. I am the only elected official running as a candidate with experience in all three branches of government and as a trial judge.
As someone who has served in all three branches of government, I understand the difference between the function of a legislator and that of a judge. Unfortunately, some members of the judiciary frequently act as a super-legislature from Charleston rather than as judges. Justices should follow and enforce the law, rather than act as partisan legislators.
3. Courts should not engage in activism, but should enforce and interpret the laws passed by the Legislature. As a judge, I have sometimes had to enforce laws that I voted against when I was a State Senator and which I believed made poor social policy. My function as a judge, however, is not to second guess laws enacted by the legislators, because it is the function of the legislature, and the not the judiciary, to decide upon social policy and laws to be followed in the State. If, however, a law does directly conflict with the clear mandate and clear language of the West Virginia Constitution or the United States Constitution, then the law should be declared unconstitutional and should not be enforced.
4. I am the only candidate with experience working at the highest court in the land, the U.S. Supreme Court. After serving four years as a state circuit judge from 1976-1980, I was the only person selected in a national competition to serve at the United States Supreme Court as a Supreme Court Fellow in 1980. After my service as a Fellow, the Chief Justice of the United States hired me to work on his staff. President Reagan next appointed me to establish and run a new subdivision at the U.S. Department of Justice. After that, I was elected as and served as a West Virginia State Senator for eight years prior to getting elected as a Circuit Judge for the 23rd Judicial Circuit in 2008.
Q&A with West Virginia’s Supreme Court Candidates
- Local News
Dark enlightenment at Auschwitz
The sky above us was gray and murky as we gathered at the main entrance. After a mere three-hour drive, we had crossed the border from the Czech Republic into Poland and arrived at Auschwitz: the largest concentration camp established and built by the Nazis during World War II.
- PSD negotiating sale with Beckley Water Company
Vandalia gathering set for Memorial Day weekend
The West Virginia Division of Culture and History invites the public to celebrate the traditional music of West Virginia on Memorial Day weekend, May 24-25 at the Cultural Center during the 37th annual Vandalia Gathering. The family-friendly event is free, and everyone is welcome.
Storms cause minor power outages
A few minor power outages and a mudslide in Glen Daniel were the most dramatic reports to the Raleigh County Emergency Operations Center, following pop-up thunderstorms throughout the region Sunday afternoon, officials said.
Blue Ridge Funeral Home to honor veterans, first responders and all loved ones May 26
Traditionally, Memorial Day is a time to remember and honor those who died while serving their country, but over the years, the day has become a time to honor all of those who have passed.
- Calendar — Monday, May 20, 2013
- Red Riders
Doctors, patient express importance of RGH cardiac unit
Dorothy Wright-Reynolds will remember Nov. 13, 2009, for the rest of her life.
It was the day that due to the quick response of many people and the availability of cardiac stent service at Raleigh General Hospital, she survived.
Murder in a rural county
High on a hill, in woods overlooking a multi-family cemetery, a hunter set about readying a tree stand for the fall season when he spied a human skull.
Rainelle has big weekend planned for veterans
A big weekend for military veterans is planned for Rainelle, as the ninth annual West Virginia Veterans’ Reunion begins Thursday, just as an expected 400 Run for the Wall motorcycles arrive in town.
- More Local News Headlines
- Dark enlightenment at Auschwitz