BECKLEY – Former state legislator William R. “Bill” Wooton has announced plans to run for the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.
Wooton, 71, issued a press release Dec. 3 announcing his candidacy.
“It is with humility that I offer myself as a candidate for justice of the state Supreme Court,” he said. “I have extraordinary respect for this body and the work that the justices do for West Virginia.
“I have a deeply held belief that our Supreme Court should always protect the honor of both the United States and West Virginia constitutions. I also believe the court should ensure that the legislative intent of our state laws is honored by the courts. I believe that my service in both the Senate and House of Delegates would be a tremendous asset to the high court.”
Wooton said he thinks the state is in a period of transition.
“We need people with experience on the court,” he said. “I have a lot of experience in all facets of state government. I think we need someone who has a respect for the Constitution, and I think I can do that.”
Wooton touts his “lifetime of public service” that includes being engaged in the practice of law for a long time.
“I’ve seen just about every kind of case from both sides,” he said. “And, I worked as a federal law clerk, so I’ve seen things from the judge’s side. It all gives me a better foundation to form sound opinions.”
Wooton said he has considered a run for the state Supreme Court for years.
“I just didn’t pull the trigger, he said. “All summer, I was urged by a lot of supporters to run for circuit judge here in Raleigh County. There’s a new position being created, so there would be an opening. And, I seriously considered that.
“But, I finally concluded that I did not want to run for circuit judge, so then I’ve always had the Supreme Court job in the back of my mind. Last month, my entire family took a trip to Disney World. I had a lot of time in the car to talk to my wife about it, and that’s when I decided to run.”
The 2016 state Supreme Court race will be the first non-partisan one. Wooton, who always has served as a Democrat, will be running against incumbent Justice Brent Benjamin and attorney Beth Walker, both of whom previously have ran as Republicans.
Instead of a spring primary and fall general election, all judicial elections in the state now will take place in the spring.
“Being non-partisan means you only have to go through one election, and that’s a plus,” Wooton said, noting the amount of time and money it would take. “ But the public might not be aware that once the election happens in May, it’s done. I think people, in time, will adjust. But this first one will be interesting.”
Wooton served as majority whip and majority leader in the House during his time there. He was a House member from 1976 to 1986, again from 1988 to 1990 and again from 2008 to 2010. He unsuccessfully ran again in 2012. From 1990 to 2000, he was a state Senator. During his time in the state Senate, he chaired the Judiciary Committee.
Wooton worked as an assistant Raleigh County Prosecuting Attorney from 1976 to 1977. He was an assistant state attorney general from 1972 to 1974. And, he served as a law clerk for Judge John A Field Jr. of the U.S. Court of Appeals Fourth Circuit.
He now manages a private law practice in Beckley.
Wooton attended the West Virginia University College of Law and earned a BBA from Marshall University. He later received his J.D. from Ohio University. He has served in the West Virginia Army National Guard and in the United States Army Reserved as a Colonel.
He and his wife Shir live in Raleigh County, and he is the father of three sons and a grandfather.