MORGANTOWN – Beth Walker officially has entered the 2016 state Supreme Court race.

She announced her candidacy Thursday in Morgantown, saying she hopes to bring fairness and a strong voice for all citizens to the state’s highest court.

“My campaign will be based on my conservative vision for the role of Justice of the Supreme Court, which is to be fair and to uphold the rule of law, without legislating from the bench," Walker said in a statement. "I will do my part, as a Supreme Court Justice, to move the state forward by making sure our court system is fair and impartial rather than perceived as something less than that."

Walker also mentioned legal reforms passed earlier this year by the state Legislature, saying she hopes these reforms will put West Virginia’s court system back on the side of voters instead of special interests.

“I deeply believe we can make West Virginia an even better place to live, work, and raise our families," she said. "We face many challenges, including a lingering negative perception about our court system. I will work hard and remain committed to the conservative principles of judicial restraint and fairness.

"I look forward to the upcoming campaign, as well as the opportunity to earn the support and votes of West Virginians.”

Walker, who narrowly lost a seat on the Court in 2008, now is associate general counsel for the West Virginia University Health System, which is the state’s largest healthcare system and second largest private employer. Before that, she was a partner at Bowles Rice, where she concentrated her statewide practice on labor and employment law for more than 20 years.

She is married to Mike Walker, an attorney and former executive vice president of Cecil I. Walker Machinery Co.

When she ran for one of two seats in the 2008 election, Walker ran as a Republican. She narrowly lost out on the second seat behind Democrats Menis Ketchum and Margaret Workman. She trailed Workman by less than 1 percent for the second spot.

But the 2016 Supreme Court election will be non-partisan after the Legislature made that change to judicial elections in this year’s session. Like county school board races, judicial elections will take place during the primary. Walker and incumbent Justice Brent Benjamin are the only candidates to announce so far.

As Hoppy Kercheval says in his June 5 column about Walker, her entry “reveals a significant shift in the political dynamic since Benjamin ran successfully for his first 12-year term in 2004.”

“Benjamin was an underdog to Democrat incumbent Warren McGraw until West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse and Don Blankenship’s “And for the Sake of the Kids …” PAC stepped in,” Kercheval wrote. “Then-Massey Energy CEO Blankenship hired political consultant Greg Thomas to run the PAC.  It raised and spent $3.7 million in ads criticizing McGraw and supporting Benjamin.”

Kercheval said Thomas and CALA now support Walker instead of Benjamin.

“Unfortunately, Justice Brent Benjamin has cast a series of votes that have contributed to our state’s Judicial Hellhole status,” WV CALA Executive Director Roman Stauffer told Kercheval. “It’s not surprising that the personal injury lawyers are considering supporting his campaign.”

A Benjamin 2016 campaign adviser, however, told Kercheval that his candidate is what a justice should be.

“He is regarded across the spectrum as a fair Justice,” said Steve Cohen, who worked on Benjamin’s campaign in 2004 as well as being a former executive director for WV CALA.  “He’s not in the tank for any particular agenda other than justice.”

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