CHARLESTON – Brent Benjamin wants to serve another 12 years as a justice on the West Virginia Supreme Court.
Benjamin first was elected in 2004 after a contentious campaign against Democratic incumbent Warren McGraw.
Now, Benjamin says he believes he has a “very strong record” on which to run.
He said there are at least seven good reasons he deserves another term on the bench.
“First and foremost, our Supreme Court is stable and predictable,” he said. “It wasn’t 12 years ago. And personally, I think I apply the law fairly, and people see that I don’t legislate from the bench.”
Secondly, he pointed to the success of the drug courts and veterans courts.
“Ten years ago, they didn’t exist,” Benjamin said. “Now, we’ve had more than 1,000 graduates. Statistics show that without programs such as these, about 85 percent of drug offenders go back to using drugs. That would be immensely expensive to the state.
“But with these types of programs, the recurrence rate is 14 percent for juveniles and 9 percent for adults. That means we’re turning lives around, restoring families and restoring relationships. We are turning people back onto a successful path and saving the state of West Virginia tens of millions of dollars in incarceration costs and stopping that cycle of crime.”
Third, Benjamin hailed the Access to Justice initiative he implemented as Chief Justice in 2009.
“Statistics show that in five years, we have earned our way into the top programs in the country,” he said. “No one should be above the law, but no one should be below it either. We’re getting there, thanks to this very popular program.”
Fourth, he pointed to the continuing modernization of the state court system, noting that e-filing is expanding.
“In fact, on Monday, we will be starting e-filing in Jefferson County,” he said. “This will not only result in efficiency in the system, it also will make the cost of litigation less in the state.”
Benjamin also touted the children’s programs operated by the court.
“We have a good system in place,” he said. “We’ve made great strides with foster children and truancy program. By keeping kids in school, we are making sure they have great futures.”
Benjamin also highlighted the Business Court Division.
“When we first started talking about this program, we weren’t sure how it would be received,” he said. “But, it has proven to be wildly popular with businesses. It handles these cases in a much more cost effective and efficient manner, and it tries to resolve matters within a year. Its growing rapidly, and we’re getting great feedback.”
And seventh, Benjamin said the court has made great strides in civic education across the state.
“It’s important for government officials to get out and listen to the public,” he said. “We listen to them and find out what they need from their courts. A great example is this coming Tuesday. We are hearing cases in Point Pleasant. It’s not just listening. We are taking the court on the road to the people so they can see how it operates.”
A new wrinkle in the 2016 Supreme Court race will be that all West Virginia judicial elections now are non-partisan.
Although he said he had planned to run again before the Legislature and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin enacted and signed the non-partisan bill into law, Benjamin said he’s excited about the change.
“As you might recall when I ran in 2004, I advocated non-partisan then,” he said. “And I still do. Politics have no place in the administration of justice.
“And while our current court has endeavored to keep politics out of our decisions, we don’t have to look too far back to see problems West Virginia has had with that in the recent past.”
The change means instead of primary elections in the spring and a general election in the fall, there only will be one judicial election that takes place in the spring. While Benjamin currently is the only candidate for the lone seat up for election, he theoretically could be running with a host of other candidates.
“It will be different, but I think it is right,” Benjamin said of non-partisan judicial elections. “These next 56 weeks (on the campaign trail) are going to go by very quickly.”
He said he’s excited about how the state is moving forward.
“It’s great to see,” he said. “I really think there is a strong desire to change the direction of this state in a good way. We aren’t going to accept being 48th anymore. We won’t accept 25th anymore.
“And, the courts provide the stability upon which we can build.”