Gov. Joe Manchin
PARKERSBURG - It took nearly a year for J.D. Beane to be tabbed as a replacement for retired Wood Circuit Judge George Hill.
Beane's replacement, however, needs to be picked in less than a month.
That's the main issue facing Wood County now that Beane, who served the Parkersburg-area in the House of Delegates for 16 years, has resigned his post to become the 4th Circuit's third judge. Manchin appointed him Dec. 15.
The county's Democratic Executive Committee, headed by Parkersburg attorney Walt Auvil, will have to meet to choose three potential successors who will be submitted to Gov. Joe Manchin. Manchin will choose Beane's replacement from that list.
Auvil has been an outspoken critic of the wait Wood County has endured since Hill retired at the end of February. He will have a hand in choosing the list of three as the county attempts to have a replacement ready for the Legislature's session that begins Jan. 10.
Auvil and the other area attorneys now have their judge, but the approximately 40 members of the Democratic Executive Committee will have to sift through applicants for Beane's spot in the Legislature over the holidays.
"Even a political junkie like me does not relish reading multiple potential candidate questionnaires over Christmas," Auvil told both the Parkersburg News and Sentinel and The Record in an e-mail. "I would suggest that many WCDEC Committee members would agree that they might have other Holiday preferences as well. We are asking them to sacrifice those to review these questionnaires and attend the special meeting two days after Christmas.
"We are similarly placing a considerable strain on applicants to complete a lengthy questionnaire and return it to us within a few days. Had the Governor's office been frank about its intent weeks or months ago none of these time pressures would have been imposed on us or the candidates as the entire process could have been completed by now in anticipation of the official announcement of the selection."
Auvil also suggested that individuals who would have been interested in the job may be put off now.
"I would guess the timing may eliminate some who would otherwise have applied for this reason -- some folks will not be able to leave to go to Charleston on notice that is only a few days. Family obligations and business responsibilities may make the transition time too short.
"My understanding is that we need to have a delegate in place by Jan. 7 to receive committee assignments from the new leadership. That does not give a candidate much time."
An editorial in the Parkersburg News and Sentinel called Beane's appointment "possibly the worst-kept secret in recent history."
The reason that Beane's appointment, some argue, took so long stems from a 1999 Supreme Court decision that stated a legislator could not be appointed to a position that had had a pay raise voted on by the legislator in his or her current term.
Beane had voted on a judicial pay raise in 2005, but when his term ran out earlier this month it ended the stipulations of that decision, making him eligible to take the Wood Circuit judgeship without being subjected to a challenge.
Manchin legal counsel Carte Goodwin acknowledged that the appointment took longer than usual but said there was nothing political about it.
"I think the process is one that must be very deliberate and must be very thorough," he aid. "As you get into it, sometimes it takes longer than the Governor and the local residents would like.
"At the end of the day, you need to find a very qualified person to fill that position, and that's what we've done with J.D. Beane."
But that's not the viewpoint of the website www.woodcountywaits.com, which detailed the problems caused by not having a judge, according to Manchin's critics.
According to the timeline constructed on the site:
-Nine attorneys applied for the job in February, and Goodwin announced that due to the Legislative session interviews would be held in May;
-After interviews were held in July, Goodwin sent a memo to all applicants stating that the Governor's office forgot to request law school transcripts, further delaying the final two interviews;
-The final two interviews were held Aug. 24, seven months after Hill announced his retirement. Goodwin had previously stated that Manchin's goal was to have a replacement who could take over Hill's docket as soon as he stepped down;
-Beane, a Democrat, is one of the applicants, even though by voting for a judicial pay raise in 2005, state law prohibits him from taking the job;
-Wood County Commission Rick Modesitt estimates extra monthly jail costs caused by lack of permanent third judge between $30,000-$56,000, causing a $200,000 budget shortfall for the county;
-Wood Circuit Judge Jeffrey Reed sent Manchin a letter in May requesting the vacancy be filled "without unnecessary delay.";
-The county's Republican Executive Committee, Democratic Executive Committee, County Commission, Bar Association and Deputy Sheriff's Association all passed resolutions urging Manchin to act quicker;
-And a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services ranked West Virginia last in the nation in protecting children from abuse, and that Hill's division of the court was responsible for 2/3 of the Wood County child abuse cases.
"The judgeship that has been unfilled now for going on a year is the judgeship that primarily handled child abuse and neglect cases, and the replacement judges put in there (retired senior status judges James Holliday and Arthur Gustke) have refused to handle those cases," Auvil said in October.
"The consequence is that the other two judges have had to take the burden of all child abuse and neglect cases."
Beane declined to comment when asked his response to allegations that a delay was intentional.
Beane will be up for re-election in 2008. Michelle Rusen, Auvil's wife who was also an applicant for the judge's job, is planning to run against him.
Beane did say that he hopes the Democratic Executive Committee can find his replacement in time.
"I don't want to see the seat that I had left vacant for any part of the session," Beane said.