In advance of next month’s General Election, The Register-Herald invited all candidates on the ballot for U.S. Senator, U.S. House of Representatives, Governor, State Supreme Court,
Attorney General and Agriculture Commissioner to appear before our editorial board. During the next several days we will feature those in-depth interviews. Today’s candidate is incumbent Democrat Robin Davis running for the West Virginia Supreme Court.
Adding an intermediate appellate court is often discussed/debated in West Virginia. What do you consider some of the pros and cons of an intermediate appellate court?
Davis: I have consistently taken the position that there is no need for an intermediate appellate court in West Virginia; and, I have some very specific reasons. When the Chamber and business began several years ago talking about the need for an intermediate appellate court, I was chief of the court and we began to take a look at some of the things we could do as a court to negate that need. I quickly realized that our appellate court rules had not been revised in well over 40 years; and, I can tell you why: It was a ton of work to revise those rules. They were antiquated, they didn’t provide a means or a mechanism for the people of West Virginia to understand exactly what we do. So, during the year of 2010, when I was chief, I headed up the revision of the appellate court rules.
One of the complaints that businesses had was that we were not reviewing every petition or rendering a decision on every petition that was filed with the court. Quite frankly, that was wrong, but when you went back and looked at how we handled some petitions, if we just refused them, we refused them in just a cursory sentence or two. Now, because of the revision, we write a written decision on every petition that’s filed with the West Virginia Supreme Court. So, every litigant knows how we ruled and why we ruled that way because there’s a written decision. Because we, in fact, are getting our work done at the Supreme Court, there is simply no need to burden the taxpayers of West Virginia with an intermediate appellate court. It would cost millions of taxpayer dollars every year and just add another layer of government. I firmly believe less government is better. Of course, there would be an additional delay. For all of those reasons I think we simply do not need an intermediate appellate court.
Explain your views on how transparent the court should be to the public.
Davis: Absolutely transparent. I take great pride in the whole purpose of us revising our rules of appellate procedure, we accomplished that task. Now there is a written decision on every case with the appropriate case law involved so that the public can in fact see everything we’re doing and why we’ve done it. I commend our court for taking on the task, but it was needed, it was needed.
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.
Davis: As I’ve said, I’ve been on the court 15 years. I’ve worked with 13 different Supreme Court Justices. I’ve seen our court when it was highly politicized and very divided. I am a strict constructionist. I am a justice that believes in following the rule of law and I’m very proud of the fact, that I think that now, more than ever before — in my 15 years on the court — our court has no political agenda. There is no need for a political agenda on the court. The court is no place for a political agenda. If we have one agenda, it’s to follow the rule of law, and I’m delighted to have helped get us into that phase of a judicial court as opposed to a highly political court.
Is the current make up 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 of justice so that it is balanced?
Davis: I would never want to tilt the scales one way or the other. That’s not my function as a justice. My function is to, when I’m the chief, try to steer the court in terms of following the statutes and the rule of law. Stare decisis is a very legal concept. If we deviate case by case by case, from prior cases and don’t follow the pattern of law that our court has laid down for years, that will be a very unsettling environment for the business community and for the people of the state. I think, ... we just need to follow the rule of law. Of the five justices, none of us got there because we’re potted plants. Everybody is very opinionated, but the beauty of the court that we have now is while we may not always agree, when we disagree, we do it in a professional, civilized, collegial fashion. And, I’ve been on the court when that’s not the case. I would say that the court that we have right now — in my personal opinion — is the most balanced court that I’ve participated in.
What makes you the best candidate to fill one of the two available seats on the Court and why should voters elect you?
Davis: I’m the most senior member of our court. As I said, I’ve worked with 13 difference Justices, so I’ve been around the block and seen a lot. I’ve participated in over 2,500 written opinions at our court and any of those opinions which have been appealed to the United States Supreme Court on which I sat, not one, not one of those opinions has been reversed by the United States Supreme Court.
I have been elected chief of our court on five separate occasions — more than any other justice in the past 50 years, and I think that speaks volume with regard to my leadership on the court. I’ve been endorsed by business, labor, every major law enforcement association in the state and I got a ton of newspaper endorsements in the primary. Not only have I worked hard as a jurist, but I have initiated programs that I’m very proud of that have not only been the very first of in West Virginia, but the first in the nation: The domestic violence registry, which has saved a lot of women and children’s lives, but also law enforcement officers’ lives; the abuse and neglect database, which has made sure that the children who have been involved in abusive situations are registered so that if their families move in West Virginia, they don’t fall through the cracks. As I’ve talked about, the revisions to the appellate court rules; and, lastly, the court has recently asked me to work on the rule, which we recently adopted on Sept. 10, establishing a business court in West Virginia. We are actually going to open the business court in the Eastern Panhandle on Oct. 10.
Again, the court has looked to me to head-up that program. So, I think, based on my leadership and experience, I am the candidate for the West Virginia Supreme Court.