Huntington attorney Menis Ketchum speaks during his Dec. 12 press conference to formally announce his run for a seat on the state Supreme Court. (Photo by Chris Dickerson)
CHARLESTON – Surrounded by family, friends and supporters, Huntington attorney Menis Ketchum made his bid for a seat on the state Supreme Court official.
Ketchum made the formal announcement Dec. 12 in the Governor's Press Conference Room at the state Capitol.
"My judicial philosophy is really quite simple," said Ketchum, a Democrat. "I believe it is the function of judges to even-handedly apply the law rather than to make the law. If I'm fortunate enough to be elected, I want to be known as a fair-minded Justice who puts the law before politics or ideology.
"I will do my best to see that our citizens and corporations receive equal treatment before the court and that criminals – especially violent ones – receive the punishment they deserve.
"I want to be a fair judge to all of the people."
Among the crowd of people on hand to show support for Ketchum were business leaders, labor leaders, defense attorneys and trial lawyers. Ketchum has practiced law in Huntington for 40 years.
"I will not be a plaintiff's judge, and I will not be a defense judge," Ketchum said. "I will be a people's judge. Because I believe that way, I have a diverse group of people here who know I'll be fair.`I have no agenda. I can't be bought.
"I accept the premise that we have frivolous cases filed by imprudent lawyers. I also acknowledge injustices are done to individuals by unscrupulous businesses. … I will continue to do what I have done for the past 40 years – to evaluate the facts and to even-handedly apply the law."
Ketchum said he realizes he faces a major campaign.
"Oh, I know it's an uphill battle because not many people know me outside of Cabell and Wayne counties," he said. "But I have more trial and appellate court experience than all of the other candidates combined."
Ketchum said he has tried more than 170 cases to jury verdict and prosecuted more than 30 reported state Supreme Court cases.
Since he decided to run 40 days ago, Ketchum said he has been home one day. The rest of the time, he's been traveling across the state.
"My wife Judy and I have spent eight hard days in the Northern Panhandle counties," he said. "We had meetings every hour on the hour with people and groups. We worked hard.
"On our way home, I looked at her and said, 'After eight days, 1 percent of the people up here know us now.'"
He said he plans to create name awareness statewide through "hard work and TV."
"You have to do that to get your name out there," he said. "That's just how it has to be done."
Incumbent Democrat Spike Maynard already has announced his plans to seek re-election. Justice Larry Starcher, also a Democrat, has not done so. But Ketchum seemed sure Starcher will not run again.
"Larry Starcher will not run," Ketchum said during his press conference.
Starcher declined comment on Ketchum's comment.
Five other candidates have filed pre-candidacy papers for the two seats on the 2008 ballot. They are Charleston attorney Mike Allen, West Virginia University law professor Bob Bastress, former Justice Margaret Workman and Charleston attorney Beth Walker, the only Republican in the group. Filing for pre-candidacy allows candidates to begin raising money for their campaigns before the official filing period, which is Jan. 14-26.
Last week, Ketchum's campaign raised $254,000 at a fundraiser at Guyan Golf and Country Club in Huntington.
Ketchum said he expects this race to be more expensive than the 2004 campaign that featured Brent Benjamin defeating incumbent Warren McGraw for a Supreme Court seat.
"I think you'll see three or four candidates spend more than $1 million apiece on this campaign," he said. "Television ads are expensive."
The cost, Ketchum said, is exactly the reason he thinks judges should be appointed on merit rather than elected.
"It's unconscionable that a judge has to raise $1 million to run for office," he said. "We need a fair Supreme Court. If someone gives you $1,000, they want something in return. It's wrong."
Ketchum also said he will resign from his post as vice chairman of the board of governors for Marshall University when he files his official candidacy papers next month.
"I don't want to resign, but I'm afraid people will say I'm using that position to influence the faculty, staff and others at Marshall to vote for me," he said.