CHARLESTON - With the appointment of Princeton attorney Mary Ellen Griffith to the 12th Family Circuit Court in McDowell and Mercer counties, Gov. Joe Manchin's office can now turn its attention to filling a few other judicial vacancies -- most notably the Wood Circuit Judge spot.
Several groups in Wood County have expressed concern over the amount of time it has taken Manchin to approve a successor to the retired George Hill, who resigned his post in February.
The county's Republican executive committee, Democratic executive committee, county commission, bar association and deputy sheriffs association have all requested action. Currently, two senior status judges, James Holliday of Putnam County and Arthur Gustke of Wood County (both retired), are occupying the empty spot.
Carte Goodwin, counsel for the governor, has said that interviews will be conducted this month. In May, a list of eight applicants was released. They are:
State Delegate J.D. Beane, Assistant Jackson County Prosecutor G. Bradley Frum, Parkersburg attorney Dean Furmer, Wirt County Prosecutor Leslie Maze, Vienna attorney Patrick Radcliff, former Wood County Prosecutor Michelle Rusen, Parkersburg attorney George Torres and Parkersburg attorney Thomas Zimmerman.
A seven-person committee will conduct the interviews then send recommendations to Manchin.
Steve Canterbury, administrative director of the West Virginia courts system, says there's little the system can do until Manchin makes a choice.
"There is a clear separation there," he said. "It's totally the governor's process in filling the vacancy. He can literally pick the name out of a hat if he wants to."
Canterbury said it is his belief that the office was focusing on filling the McDowell and Mercer family court vacancy because there were no senior status judges to handle the workload, as there are in Wood Circuit.
Instead, Cabell Family Court Judge Patricia Keller and Kanawha Family Court Judge Jane Charnock Smallridge have been splitting time between their own courtrooms and the one that will now be occupied by Griffith.
The opening was created when Kimber McMillion was suspended without pay and subsequently retired in April when she was charged with committing an unspecified violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct.
Since then, Smallridge and Keller have been back and forth, waiting for a new appointment to be made, at the risk of falling behind with their own caseload.
"We've got two of the hardest working judges in America," Canterbury said.
Ed Wiley has been the only full-time family court judge in Mercer and McDowell counties and will reportedly be in the running for Mercer Circuit Judge John Frazier's spot. Frazier is retiring July 31.
Also, a new Circuit Judge position will soon be opening in the Eastern Panhandle, the state's fastest growing area.
Meanwhile, the senior status judges in Wood Circuit Court will continue serving until a full-time replacement is found.
"It runs fairly smoothly," Canterbury said. "We have some awfully good senior status judges.
"The lawyers that serve that area and appear before that circuit, those are the ones who most want to see the position settled and a judge installed. Then they can get to know the new judge and have a little more familiarity."