Three of the four candidates for state Supreme Court took part in a forum May 31 sponsored by West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse. (Photo by Kyla Asbury)

CHARLESTON – The West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse hosted a Supreme Court candidate forum May 31 at the Summit Conference Center to help attorneys get to know the candidates running for Supreme Court justice.

The forum was part of WV CALA's 2012 Civil Justice Update, which is a Continuing Legal Education program for attorneys focusing on the latest developments in West Virginia's civil justice system.

The forum was moderated by the Hon. John F. McCuskey, a former state Supreme Court Justice.

Three of the four candidates attended the forum. Supreme Court Justice Robin Jean Davis was unable to attend because the Supreme Court of Appeals was in session at the time of the forum.

The other three candidates -- Letitia Neese Chafin, an attorney at the H. Truman Chafin Law Firm and the past president of the West Virginia State Bar; Allen Loughry, the clerk of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals; and John Yoder, a current circuit judge for the 23rd Judicial Circuit -- were present.

Chafin said the reason she is running for Supreme Court justice is because of her passion for the law and helping people.

"This is really an opportunity to marry together two things that I love and am passionate about: practicing law and serving the public," Chafin said.

Loughry said he wants the chance to play a positive part in West Virginia's future.

Yoder, who has worked in each of the three branches of government during his career, said wants to help those in need and do his part as a fair and unbiased Supreme Court justice.

Each of the candidates said they have issues they feel strongly about and want to do their parts to advocate for those causes if elected to office.

"West Virginia has double the national rate of children being removed from their homes and families," Yoder said. "The system is very slow. I want to put more emphasis on preserving the family—not just removing the child without seeing what is best for that child and that family."

Chafin said she wants to work on recusal reform for judges and justices.

"I think if you ask a justice to recuse themselves from a case and they say no, that justice should have to provide a written opinion as to why they think they shouldn't have to recuse themselves," Chafin said. "I think that written opinion should then go through a reviewing process and should be posted to the court Web site for the public to see—that way there is complete transparency."

Loughry said he wants to see the expansion of the drug courts in the state.

"Drug abuse is such a huge problem in our state," Loughry said. "We need to expand the drug courts. I don't see us having 55 drug courts in all 55 counties, but maybe something like circuit drug courts. This is a problem that needs fixed."

McCuskey asked the candidates their thoughts on the reference of West Virginia as a judicial hellhole, and what they would do to fix that perception.

"It's a perception and not a reality," Chafin said."I think the idea of recusal reform and complete transparency of the court would be one way to combat this perception. If everything is transparent, that would make people more comfortable and trusting."

Loughry said the state has an unfortunate history of corruption.

"I believe the perception is with us, and it's not going to change overnight," Loughry said. "I think the biggest impact on that perception is the outcome of this election."

Yoder said the idea needs to be addressed, not ignored.

"We need to address this perception and fix it, not sweep it under the rug and deny the problem," Yoder said. "I agree with Allen; this election will reshape the outlook and philosophy of the court when there are two new justices elected."

The candidates were also asked their thoughts on the erosion of public opinion of the courts and whether or not they support the recommendation of an intermediary appellate court.

"The new appellate rules need to be studied first before we create an intermediary appellate court," Chafin said. "We need to give the new rules a chance first."

Loughry said he is in favor of an intermediary appellate court.

"Even with the new rules, I think we need one," Loughry said.

Yoder said he supported the intermediary appellate court, but only with conditions.

"I think we first need to do a cost-benefit analysis before creating a new court," Yoder said. "We need to see the costs and if the benefits are worth the costs. It would cost a lot more money than we have, so there needs to be a cost-benefit analysis first to see if it is really worth it."

McCuskey wrapped up the forum by asking the candidates to explain their legal philosophies.

Chafin said she believes in predictability.

"As a justice, you need to be predictable, you need to follow the law and the Constitution and use precedence," Chafin said. "You don't change the law, you enforce the law."

Loughry said his philosophy is to be fair.

"I believe in being fair and following the law," Loughry said. "That will make the court system stable."

Yoder said his philosophy is to protect individuals.

"I'm more in favor of limited government and protecting individuals," Yoder said. "I am a strong advocate for a non-partisan judiciary because there is no place for politics in the judiciary. You need to be fair and unbiased."

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