CHARLESTON -– With less than a week before Election Day, the campaigns for the two candidates for Kanawha Circuit Judge still were bickering.
On Wednesday, the campaign for Republican challenger Dan Greear issued a press release saying Judge Carrie Webster's "misleading campaign advertisements violate the judicial code of ethics."
Webster, meanwhile, disputes Greear's claim.
Then on Thursday, Greear's campaign issued another press release saying Webster continues to make false accusations about him in ads to "attempt to manipulate voters."
Webster's campaign again denied Greear's claims.
Greear's first release on Wednesday said that campaign materials from Webster say "she has doubled the number of convictions." Greear's campaign said that increasing convictions is the job of the prosecuting attorney, along with the help of law enforcement. It is the judge's role to preside over cases, rendering decisions based solely on the law and the merits of the case.
"Webster's claims attempt to capitalize on the successes of the current prosecutor's (Republican Mark Plants) efforts to streamline the indictment process, which has ultimately led to more convictions," the Greear release states. "The overwhelming majority of convictions contained in the figures cited by Webster were accomplished as the result of plea agreements with little or no involvement from Webster until the agreement was reached.
"Additionally, and more problematic for Webster is the implication that obtaining a conviction is the desired result of a judge, as opposed to simply presiding over a fair trial."
Greear said Webster appears confused.
"Either my opponent does not know the role of a judge, or she does not know which office she is seeking," Greear said in his campaign press release. "She is intentionally misleading voters by telling them she's doubled convictions; a judge does not get convictions, prosecutors get convictions."
Webster responded, saying the assertion by Greear's camp is wrong.
"It is a jury (or judge) who convicts," Webster said in a e-mail. "Prosecutors do not. They 'secure' convictions and, likewise, take full credit for it."
Webster illustrated her point.
"Consider this -- When a criminal matter goes to trial, it is the jury who either convicts or acquits the accused, not the prosecutor," she wrote in her e-mail. "A prosecutor does not have the constitutional or legal power to convict a person. That is a function of the judge and/or jury.
"The great majority of criminal matters result in a plea agreement, and not a jury trial. In those instances, the accused enters a plea agreement with the state, and then the plea is presented to the presiding judge. It is the judge who decides, based on the offense and supporting facts, whether to accept the plea. After the plea is accepted, the Court then makes certain findings and then adjudges the accused guilty of the offense ... Only then does the arrest and/or pending indictment become a conviction."
Webster also defended her work and that of her fellow Kanawha County judges.
"If you look at the increasing number of indictments over the past three years, you will see that the judges have kept pace, for the most part, including me, with the increased caseload," Webster wrote. "Because the prosecutor -- whom I have repeatedly credited with the aggressive prosecution of pending matters -- has declined and/or refused to likewise point to the circuit judges' hard work, then it incumbent upon me to do so."
Greear's Thursday release said Webster's latest ad criticizes him for "representing injured children in a lawsuit," a reference to a Cabell County case in which he represented two children injured on school swing sets. The case drew attention when Cabell County decided to remove swing sets from playgrounds, in part, to avoid litigation costs.
"If Carrie Webster has a problem with me representing injured children, she'll need to explain that to voters herself," Greear said. "Webster is fully aware that cases where the defendant admits liability and quickly offers to settle are, by definition, not frivolous."
Greear also says Webster is wrong to tell Kanawha County voters the settlement cost the taxpayers.
"The only entity paying the settlement for that lawsuit was the insurance company that covered the Cabell County Board of Education," Greear said. "Telling Kanawha County voters they are responsible for the settlement is a blatant lie, and another example of a desperate campaign's disregard for the truth."
Greear said Webster's campaign is financed by "trial lawyers who stand to gain if Webster is elected to the bench."
"The Greear for Judge Committee is concerned by the number of out of state contributions Webster's Campaign documented in its latest campaign finance report submitted to the Kanawha County Clerk," he said in his release. "It appears Webster's Finance Committee is looking to out-of-state sources to raise more money."
Kim Lawrence, spokeswoman for Webster's campaign went on the counteroffensive.
"All of Judge Webster's campaign contributions have been fully disclosed and submitted to the County Clerk's office," she said. "Conversely, her opponent's campaign has been largely funded by a group of secret donors whose identities have not been disclosed to the public.
"We believe her opponent should demand that these contributors be fully disclosed so that the public can know who is trying to buy a seat on the bench."