West Virginia Record

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Partiality taints our courts

By The West Virginia Record | Oct 12, 2007

West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Larry Starcher has, for a second time, refused to recuse himself from the case of Colgan Air.

That's the company whose co-defense counsel he's been making a habit of insulting. During a hearing at Marshall University last month, Starcher's barb came because the lawyer, like the plaintiff in the case, was of Pakistani descent. Later, seeking to explain away his insult in a written brief, Starcher described the lawyer as "window dressing" and an "argument prop."

Starcher's words, meant to accuse Colgan lawyers of scheming to hire a Pakistani lawyer to help their case, were without irony.

As a Monongalia County Circuit judge back in 1993, Starcher famously told the prosecutor during a rape trial to pack his courtroom with "props" like female victims, female lawyers and police officers, as they would help him sway the jury. Show more emotion, the judge counseled, and be sure to use the term "serial rapist" as often as possible.

So much for Starcher's positioning himself in Colgan as a sober guardian against courtroom histrionics.

Another lawyer overheard him feeding the prosecutor his suggested game plan way back when, leading to Starcher's reprimand. In hindsight, the punishment was far too lenient. For such a blatant transgression, he should have been removed from the bench once and for all.

But he wasn't, and West Virginians have learned to live with Starcher's approach to judging, in which he shows bare interest in objectivity and little respect for common judicial decorum.

Such behavior would be completely appropriate were he a delegate or a senator or a congressman, elected to vociferate on behalf of the people. But as a judge, it rings more than unbecoming. Starcher's antics are plain selfish.

Consider Colgan, where with foot-in-mouth and all notions of his own impartiality obliterated, Starcher still insists upon digging in his heels. He is staying on the case, if only for his own sake.

For a man to so routinely put himself first, and the easily-bruised reputation of our court system last, shows an utter disrespect for the interests of the people he was elected to serve.

There's no justice in sending a defendant to face judgment from a man all but admittedly committed to his prosecution.

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