CHARLESTON — Tish Chafin, past president of the West Virginia State Bar and newly minted West Virginia Supreme Court candidate, says it’s time for her to give back to the people of West Virginia.
Chafin, a Democrat, plans to officially announce her candidacy for the Court with a kick-off fundraiser at the Embassy Suites in Charleston on June 30.
The Mingo County lawyer points to her husband, longtime Democratic state Sen. Truman Chafin, as a reason for running.
“My husband, Truman, has served as a state senator for 28 years and I’m very proud of him,” she said. “I’ve watched him make a positive impact on the lives of West Virginians, and I want to do the same.”
Chafin, who has served on various boards and volunteered her time for children and education issues, said she is ready to serve the state.
And she says she has what it takes to be on the state’s highest court.
“I’ve been practicing law for about 15 years and that’s all been in Mingo County in southern West Virginia,” Chafin explained. “Truman and I have a small practice, so I’ve tried numerous cases. I’ve been involved in anything from adoptions to writs to the Supreme Court.
“That’s one of the great things about having a smaller practice like we do. I think about all of the experience I’ve gained over the past 15 years. It’s a wide gamut.”
Chafin said it has served as a “great base” and has given her a good grasp of all the issues that she could face as a Supreme Court justice.
Her time as president of the state Bar also was a great opportunity, she said. Chafin served as its head from 2010 to 2011.
“I’ve had a chance to work with people on all sides,” she explained. “The state Bar does far more than people imagine. It was really helpful.”
Of the current Court, Chafin says she thinks it is doing a good job.
While she has no specific goals for the Court if elected, she said she would continue its “collegiate atmosphere.” She also said she would promise to keep the court system running efficiently and look at all issues with an open mind — including the Court’s recently revised appellate rules.
Prior to the rules changes, which were made effective in December, if someone filed an appeal and it was rejected, they simply received a letter saying so. Now, if an appeal is rejected, a full explanation is given as to why.
Still, some critics, mainly those in the business community, continue to argue that the changes don’t go far enough in providing a fair appellate process in the state. Many support the creation of an intermediate appellate court.
Chafin said the rules, in being so new, need to be properly evaluated to make sure they are working.
“West Virginia is one of the few states that doesn’t have an intermediate appeals court. But the new rules were enacted to give greater access to the appeals process. I think we need to step back and look and see if that’s the case.”
She added, “I’m open to listening to both sides.”
Though this is Chafin’s first run at the Court, it isn’t the first time she has considered it.
She said she thought about running in 2010, against Justice Thomas McHugh, who was up for reelection.
McHugh’s seat was previously held by Justice Joseph Albright, who died in 2009 with a term expiring in 2012. Then-Gov. Joe Manchin appointed McHugh, who had previously served on the Court but retired, to fill the seat until the 2010 election, when someone would be elected to fill the remaining two years of Albright’s term.
McHugh, a Democrat, narrowly defeated Circuit Court Judge John Yoder, a Republican.
“I thought about running then,” Chafin said, “but I wanted to fulfill my commitment to the Bar. I knew there would be an opportunity to run in 2012.”
What of her competition?
Justice Robin Davis announced earlier this month that she is running for reelection in 2012. She made her announcement on the radio show Talkline with Hoppy Kercheval.
Davis, also a Democrat, is considered a formidable candidate. She and husband Scott Segal are wealthy, and she has shown that she can raise money for a campaign.
The justice told Kercheval she did contemplate running for West Virginia’s U.S. Senate seat, currently occupied by Manchin, but decided against it.
Since there are two open seats on the Court and candidates run at-large, Chafin said she doesn’t really consider Davis a direct competitor.
But that doesn’t mean she won’t run a tough campaign, she said.
“I’m going to run an aggressive campaign and I’m going to run to win,” Chafin said.
She said people know and respect her for being fair and considerate of all sides of an issue.
“If the voters elect me, I would be fair but firm and an impartial judge for the people of West Virginia,” she said.
In an e-mail to potential supporters earlier this month, Chafin announced that Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper will chair her campaign, with former state lawmaker and Tudor’s/Gino’s owner Oshel Craigo heading the fundraising committee. Former Democratic Party Chairman Chuck Smith will be campaign treasurer, and lawyer Anthony Majestro will serve as the campaign’s attorney.