Supreme Court candidates talk business
Steve Korris Sep. 4, 2008, 6:00am
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS – State Supreme Court candidate Menis Ketchum asked West Virginia's Chamber of Commerce to endorse him and said it was unfair to label him as a plaintiff lawyer.
"I have been defending businesses for 40 years," Ketchum said at the Chamber's annual Business Summit in the Greenbrier Hotel.
He said he didn't get the Chamber's endorsement last October but he was still trying.
"Talk to people who know me and take a second look," he said.
Ketchum and the other two candidates, Beth Walker and Margaret Workman, addressed hundreds of business leaders on Aug. 29, at the close of the three day summit.
In November, voters will pick two of them for 12 year terms.
Ketchum spoke first, telling the crowd he has tried more than 170 cases to jury verdicts.
He said he had 35 Supreme Court of Appeals decisions. "Only a handful of lawyers in this state have more," he said.
In more than half of those decisions he defended business, he said.
He said he represented Allstate and Zurich as retained counsel and represented Nationwide and State Farm when their counsel had conflicts of interest.
He said plaintiff lawyers caused an insurance crisis by abusing third party bad faith law.
"I opposed that and I have testified as a defense expert on that," he said.
He said West Virginia needs merit selection for the Supreme Court and pledged that if elected he would not run again.
He said he wanted to talk about "tort hell." He said he ran because he got mad over a Supreme Court decision.
He said the Fletcher family owns one of the last manufacturers in Huntington. "Fletcher Mining makes roof bolters, million dollar machines," he said.
He said U.S. law requires dust catchers. He said a class action suit claimed the dust catchers met U.S. requirements but they could have built them better.
He said Mingo Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury dismissed it but the Supreme Court sent it back for jury trial.
"Ladies and gentlemen, that is tort hell," he said.
Walker followed, introducing herself as a partner at Bowles Rice in Charleston and vice chair of its human resources committee.
She said it was her 12th business summit. She said she went through Leadership West Virginia in 1997, its first year.
"Twelve years is a long time," she said. She said some have talked about changes like nonpartisan elections, merit selection and an intermediate appeals court.
She said she would focus solely on the rule of law and she wouldn't use politics to leverage a decision.
"A judiciary is not there to second guess the Legislature," she said.
She said if people don't get what they want from lawmakers, they lobby the Supreme Court.
Judges openly express personal views, she said. "That's wrong. It has to stop," she said.
"Our court system needs to change in order for all of us to move forward," she said.
Workman followed, saying she was a circuit judge in Kanawha County and a Supreme Court Justice from 1988 to 2000.
"The best thing about my candidacy is, you don't have to guess," she said. "I have an 18 year record."
She said, "I made my decisions according to the law and no other consideration."
She said she was the first woman to hold statewide office in West Virginia.
She said she calmed down the court after its most activist period ever. She said she wanted to calm down the court again.
She said she has concern about the number of cases dwindling. "We have had some major cases come up that didn't even get reviewed," she said.
She said she was proud that she never received awards from trial lawyers or defense counsel. She said she had a good record on medical and business cases.
She said, "We have had too many integrity issues on both sides of the aisle."
She said the court needs a return to civility and courtesy.