Family Court: A shocker in Wood, and nail-biter and blowout in Kanawha

CHARLESTON – In the race for family law judge, Tuesday's election saw one incumbent judge with family clout defeated in Wood County while another incumbent judge in Kanawha County beat two opponents to barely win a second term on the bench.

Political newcomer Brian Dempster scored a victory in defeating Annette Fantasia for the 1st Division seat in the 3rd Family Court Circuit. Dempster, a Williamstown attorney, was successful in his bid with the help of voters in Pleasants County.

According to the Secretary of State's Web site, though Fantasia narrowly defeated Dempster in Wood County 5,864 to 5,831. Dempster was able to go ahead and win thanks to a 766-622 victory he took in Pleasants County.

Dempster's victory comes as a surprise and shock given Fantasia's length of service and family name. Prior to her election as family law judge in 2002, she was appointed by then-Gov. Gaston Caperton as a family law master in 1992.

Also, Fantasia is the daughter of the late Nick Fantasia, a former mayor of Fairmont, and House of Delegates member. Her brother-in-law, Ira Atkinson, is a bail bondsman, and former Wood County Magistrate.

Because he faces no Republican opposition, Dempster becomes judge once Fantasia's term expires in January. Charles D. Tallman, the 2nd Division judge, a Republican, faces no Democratic opposition in November.

Though no upsets occurred in the family law races in neighboring Wirt and Jackson counties, November's general election will see an intra-county race in each division.

The 5th Family Court Circuit was one of 10 last year in which the state legislature created a new seat. Along with the new seat, Wirt was added to the circuit, which originally included Jackson and Mason counties.

In the 1st Division, incumbent Judge Deloris J. "Jeanie" Nibert was unopposed in the Democratic primary. She received a combined 8,054 votes.

In November, she will face Point Pleasant attorney Constance J. Fisher Thomas, who received 4,064 votes in Tuesday's Republican primary.

In the 2nd Division race, Democrat John Karr Jr. received 7,675 votes. His Republican opponent in November, Cottageville attorney Rebecca Stafford Cornett, received 3,943 votes Tuesday.
Thomas, Karr and Cornett are all first-time office seekers.

Political comebacks foiled

Voting in the two contested family court races in Kanawha County featured attempts by two former law masters at political comebacks. However, both were unsuccessful.

Judge D. Mark Snyder was the incumbent in the 4th Division Democratic race. Along with Charleston attorney Greg Elliott, he faced Darlene Ratliff-Thomas, an assistant attorney general, who served as law master 1994 to 2001.

When the results were tallied in the three-way race, Snyder received 9,179 votes to Ratliff-Thomas' 8,982 and Elliott's 7,876.

The race in the newly created 5th Division was not so close, however. Sharon Mullens was the run away winner against fellow Charleston attorney Charles L. "Dusty" Phalen 16,749 to 9,042.

Prior to serving as the municipal judge in St. Albans from January 2001 to July 2005, Phalen was a family law master from 1990 to 2000.

In the 1st and 3rd Division races, incumbents Robert Montgomery and Mike Kelly received 18,518 and 19,561 votes, respectively. They, along with Mullens and Snyder, have no Republican opposition in November.

However, Ken Ballard, who received the nod to be the Democratic nominee in the 2nd Division race with 18,005 votes, does. In November, he faces incumbent Republican Judge Jane Charnock Smallridge.

Smallridge is the sister of former Kanawha County Prosecutor Bill Charnock, who resigned last year while being investigated on charges he used state resources as executive director of the state Prosecuting Attorney's Institute to fund both his, and other family members' political campaigns.

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