Why I Am Running for Justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court
In my 28 years of practicing law I have had uniformly positive experiences. My clients, co-counsel and opposing counsel, as well as the Judges and Justices I have appeared in front of have been women and men of honor, integrity and service. It saddens me to see our system of justice let down the people it was intended to serve.
West Virginia is experiencing a crisis of confidence in its court system. The men and women who were entrusted with stewardship of our courts lost sight of the fact that their role was to serve the people of West Virginia, not themselves, not outside interests. While judicial resources were directed to floors, and couches and other frivolities, the Circuit and Family Courts lack the basic resources necessary to do their jobs; Drug Courts are underfunded and undermanned, and probation departments are not given the funding necessary to enact programs promulgated by the legislature. Things must change. A new direction is needed.
West Virginia can no longer tolerate Justices who see the Court as a stepping stone to higher political office or as a “super-legislature” to make laws for special interests, both in and out of the state. Rather, West Virginia needs Justices who will follow the law, and who have actually represented parties before trial and appellate courts, and know the challenges faced by parties, Court staffs, judges, and attorneys. The next Justices of the West Virginia Supreme Court must have the breadth of legal practice to deal with increasingly complex issues in a manner consistent with the laws and procedural rules of West Virginia. But mostly, West Virginia deserves Justices that have a heart to serve.
I have litigated some of the most complex cases nationally, and in the state of West Virginia. I have a breadth of experience from different Courts, and from different legal subject matters. I have a demonstrated ability to understand, distill, and act on complex issues of fact and law. I have the actual experience representing people necessary to serve as Justice.
I know the responsibilities of financial stewardship placed on people in leadership positions. I have served on the finance committees of multiple non-profit organizations and as Chair of the Executive Committee of one of the largest churches in the Greenbrier Valley. I have my own desk. I bought it 28 years ago when I began to practice law. The top is full of scratches and coffee stains from the late nights and early mornings it takes to represent clients. Quality in a Justice, Judge or lawyer does not take a fancy office. It takes a heart to serve and commitment to the people being served.
1) Judicial Restraint
The Court was never intended to act as a legislature; was never intended to substitute its will for that of the popularly elected legislature. The role of the Court is to interpret the law based on existing statute, the West Virginia Constitution, and the Constitution of the United States. When a Court goes beyond its proper function, it abandons the concept of “the rule of law” and acts essentially as a Soviet style “politburo.”
2) Judicial Access
The West Virginia Supreme Court is the court of last jurisdiction in West Virginia. Both the federal and West Virginia constitutions recognize and require that people have a right to effective access to the Courts. This requires impartiality, equality, and availability. Justice must be blind and it must be equal. The ordinary citizen in a domestic case, and the largest employer in a commercial case must both be given impartial and equal justice. Courts are not supposed to take sides. The rich and the poor, the black and the white, the educated and uneducated must all be treated fairly and equally by the Court.
When the Court declines to hear cases, or when it does so in memorandum fashion, its constitutional role is diminished, and the fundamental right of the people to effective access to the Courts is frustrated. The Court must give more people an opportunity to be heard by expanding the number of cases in which argument is heard and considered opinions are issued. This will require resources be spent on expanding the number of days on which arguments are held. Memorandum decisions are a good thing, but they are no substitute for actually having an opportunity to be heard by the Court.
3) Judicial Accountability
The Court does more than adjudicate cases. It manages a significant budget and is responsible for administration of the Courts and Court programs. The purpose of the Court is to serve the interests of the people of the state of West Virginia, not the interests of the Justices. When the Court fails to be fundamentally accountable for its budget, its programs, and its responsibilities it misuses and distorts it proper role.
4) Judicial Transparency
Too often, the judiciary lacks transparency. Too much happens behind closed doors. This leads to a mind-set in which $30,000.00 couches and fancy offices become more important than the people served. Judicial transparency requires all financial and administrative matters are free and open to the public, procedures are well known and well documented, and the public and the press have access to observe the Court, the arguments of the parties, and be informed on matters pending before the court.
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