By STEVE COHEN
CHARLESTON -- It's not business as usual at the West Virginia Supreme Court anymore.
Since 1979 the justices have rotated the appointment of a chief justice. Next year was Justice Larry Starcher's turn to hold the top post.
But last month a majority on the bench voted to bypass him and keep Justice Robin Davis in that position.
One Starcher ally on the court cried foul, calling the breaking of precedent an attempt to strip Starcher of his "rightful term" as chief.
Well, guess what? Looks like we might be seeing a new standard of rightful, one which suggests that integrity and respect should be hallmark of West Virginia's highest tribunal.
The court majority and the Starcher camp clearly have different perspectives this time to about the qualifications to be chief justice. Just waiting in the wings until your number's called may have been acceptable for all these years, but not now.
Here in 2006, inheriting the job of chief justice has been replaced by earning it.
Larry Starcher tanked himself. When he previously was chief justice, he insisted taxpayers give him a state car. He called the head of a company who has a case before him "stupid" and a "clown." A national newspaper audience read that he so much as said one of his fellow justices was bought off.
A few years ago, the Charleston Gazette reported that Starcher referred to a former magistrate as a "b*tch." According to the Gazette, when Starcher was chief justice before, he "cussed" at a delegate serving on the House Judiciary Committee over inaction
on a measure that would have raised his pay.
This is a positive step for the Supreme Court. How can we citizens expect fairness in the legal system when Supreme Court justices go around calling people stupid clowns and b*tches?
In fact, Justice Starcher and his former colleague Warren McGraw have led a vendetta against even-handed justice in our Supreme Court for years, with ruling after ruling coming in favor of personal injury lawyers.
Such arrogance and unbalanced rulings cost Warren McGraw his job when voters sent him packing in 2004. Larry Starcher carries that same baggage into a 2008 bid for another court term.
Starcher's exclusion as chief justice is an encouraging sign for bringing stability and public respect back to the court. The general public and our highest court officers realize our courts have been a drag on West Virginia's progress and job climate, and it's high time we do something about it.
Cohen is executive director of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse.