Editor's Note: In the coming weeks, The West Virginia Record will profile candidates in this year's election for the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals and for state Attorney General.
LEWISBURG – In some ways, Judge Jim Rowe kicked off his current campaign for state Supreme Court eight years ago.
Rowe, who is a circuit judge in Greenbrier and Pocahontas counties, ran for a seat on the bench in 2004 against incumbent Warren McGraw. He lost to McGraw in the Democratic primary.
But he is using the groundwork from that campaign this time around.
"We made a lot of friends helping us out eight years ago who are doing the same this time," Rowe said. "We got in with a good base of people who understand what we're doing and are making sure our state stays ahead of the game."
Still, he said this election cycle is very different from the one he saw in 2004.
"We had crises on the court that existed eight years ago," Rowe said. "The court was dysfunctional in so many ways. That's not the case now. We have a well-balanced court, and it's working. Justices can discuss cases collegially and with candor."
On a related note, he says he doesn't see the Court now as having as much of the perception of being unfair as it did eight years ago. Still, he knows there always is room for improvement.
"The jury is still out, so to speak, on the idea of an intermediate appellate court," Rowe said. "I think we need to wait a little longer to see if the new rules for appellate procedure are working.
"My sense is that if any litigant or attorney has went somewhere in this state and got 'home cooked' and it doesn't get reviewed at an appellate level, that reputation (of being unfair) will continue. We can put that problem to rest. We need the feedback of the members of the Bar and the public at large for that."
Rowe also said the campaign is going well.
"I've been all around the state," he said. "I can't say I've been to every county. I'm still doing that as time permits.
"I feel I have the support of my colleagues, of my fellow circuit court judges. The Supreme Court needs the experience of a Circuit Court judge.
"This is my 16th year as a circuit court judge. There are good folks running, but I have the longevity on the bench and previous experience as legislator."
Rowe said he has "good cross section of folks" supporting him.
"I have people from all over in terms of geography, age, gender and parts of the state Bar," he said. "We have people on the plaintiff's side, on the defense side, criminal attorneys, civil attorneys ...
"Balance is what I hope to bring to the Court. I'll do my best to provide balance. And the people supporting me, that wide spectrum of support shows that, I think."
Rowe said the issue he hears the most about on the campaign trail right now is substance abuse, particularly drugs.
"There's a real epidemic of substance abuse," he said. "People are quite concerned about the impact on our state and, particularly, the young people. Frankly, they're alarmed, and they should be.
"It's evident we can't solve the problem by locking everybody up forever. So, we have to utilize the tools available to us. It's going to take a community effort to tackle this issue. There have been successes with the drug courts. As a Supreme Court Justice, I'd want to bring that to every part of the state. Every community is affected by this, and every branch of government needs to be doing its appropriate role. The drug problem is a scourge on our society."
And that is one way Rowe thinks his experience as a circuit judge can help.
"When I took this oath, I promised to respect the values of the people of my area," he said. "On the Supreme Court, I'd do the same thing. And I would bring my understanding as a circuit court judge and know the impact on communities that Supreme Court rulings have.
"The court is a co-equal branch of government that should be held accountable for its role on economic issues. Court decisions do affect the ability of West Virginians to keep a job or to find a job or to grow a business. In the past, the third branch has kind of gotten a pass.
"Sure, the role of courts is different, but should be accountable on economic issues. I am involved with development of the commercial litigation court. It's my belief we should look at the economics of court decisions. Everything we as a society is driven by economic decisions. West Virginia needs to be doing that, too, to ensure our citizens have a prosperous future."
Rowe has been on the bench since Gov. Gaston Caperton appointed him in 1997. He was elected to serve an unexpired term in 1998 and re-elected in 2000 and 2008. Before that, Rowe served four terms in the House of Delegates, acting as Judiciary Committee chairman and House Majority Leader.
"When I first took the oath of office as a circuit judge, I made the statement that I would try every day to reflect the values of the good people of Pocahontas and Greenbrier counties," Rowe said. "And I would try to do that statewide as well."
Rowe was born in Bedford, Va., near Roanoke, and he grew up in West Virginia in Union and Franklin. After graduating from Franklin High School, he attended Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia before graduating from West Virginia University.
After serving in the Air Force, Rowe graduated from the George Mason University School of Law, which was known as the International School of Law in 1977. He was admitted to the West Virginia Bar in 1978. He and his wife live in Lewisburg and have two daughters.
Rowe is one of six Democratic candidates for Supreme Court. Joining him are current Justice Robin Jean Davis, fellow circuit judge J.D. Beane, current Supreme Court law clerk Louis Palmer, Charleston attorney Tish Chafin and New Martinsville attorney H. John "Buck" Rogers.
Supreme Court law clerk Allen Loughry and Circuit Judge John Yoder are the Republicans running for two spots on the bench in this spring's primary.
The primary election is May 8, and the general election is Nov. 6.