CHARLESTON -- The head of a statewide legal reform group has criticized a fundraiser supporters of newly elected Supreme Court Justice Margaret Workman held to help her pay off campaign debts of $78,982.
"Judges should be insulated from the source of their campaign financing so as not to be influenced by contributors who have cases before them," said Steve Cohen, executive director of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse.
But Workman told the Charleston Gazette that people should be more concerned with "all the last-minute special-interest out-of-state money that was pumped in for one of the candidates."
She is referring to the $403,174 the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce reported in independent expenditures for Republican Beth Walker, another candidate who ran for the Supreme Court.
The Dec. 15 fundraiser for Workman, which was held at the law offices of Hendrickson and Long in Charleston, was hosted by six lawyers –- Scott Segal, Marvin Masters, Bob Fitzsimmons, Al Emch, David Hendrickson and Tom Flaherty.
Segal, Masters and Fitzsimmons normally represent plaintiffs in lawsuits. The other three are defense lawyers who usually represent corporations.
During her campaign, Walker spent $486,660 and raised $482,616, plus $403,174 in independent expenditures.
Her debt includes $66,500 in personal loans and $12,482 in unpaid bills.
Workman told the Gazette she raised less money from special interest funds than her opponents. Special interest funds should concern people since those groups do not have to identify who provided the money, she said.
"The average man on the street has to give his identity if he makes a contribution," she said. "But those out-of-state donors do not have to give their identities."
Cohen said issues such as Workman's fundraiser will continue as long as the state elects judges.
"We should make every effort that West Virginia's judicial system is fair and devoid of any pay-to-play perceptions," he said.