Ballard, Thomas, Cornett victorious in family law races

By Lawrence Smith | Nov 7, 2008

CHARLESTON – In family law races covering Kanawha, Mason, Jackson and Wirt counties, two incumbent judges were defeated, and a former family lawmaster won a newly created seat.

Seats held by Judge Jane Charnock Smallridge, and Deloris "Jeanie" Nibert were among the contested family law races in Tuesday's election. Smallridge, a Republican, and Nibert, a Democrat, were seeking re-election to the 11th Family Law Circuit's 2nd Division, and the 5th Family Law Circuit's 1st Division, respectfully.

Following approval of a constitutional amendment creating a unified family court system in 2000, Smallridge and Nibert, like all other family law judges, were appointed by then-Gov. Bob Wise in 2001.

The following year, all family law judges had to stand for an election to one six-year term.

Both Smallridge and Nibert ran unopposed in 2002.

In their bid for re-election, Smallridge and Nibert faced opposition from political newcomers Ken Ballard and Connie Fisher Thomas, respectfully. Though the Smallridge-Ballard race remained close throughout the evening, Thomas took an early lead over Nibert and kept the lead until the final results were tallied before 11 p.m.

Results from early tallies around 9 p.m. gave Thomas a 6,164-4,090 lead with all three counties reporting. With Jackson County the last to report its final results by 10:45 p.m., Thomas' lead widened to 14,145-9,799.

About an hour later, the final results in Kanawha County were tallied. Of the 67,867 votes cast for family law judge, Ballard took 35,066 votes, or 51.7 percent, to Smallridge's 32,763, or 48.3 percent.

Voters in Mason, Jackson and Wirt counties voted for not one, but two family law judges on Tuesday. The 5th Family Law Circuit's 2nd Division was among 10 new seats created by the Legislature in 2007 to address a backlog of cases.

In that race, former Assistant Jackson County Prosecutor Rebecca Stafford Cornett faced off against Charleston attorney David Karr. Cornett served for two years as a family lawmaster in Mason and Jackson counties during Gov. Gaston Caperton's administration.

Though Karr was able to defeat Cornett in Mason County, 5,032-4,599, she kept and maintained solid leads in Jackson and Wirt counties. The final tally in all three counties gave Cornett a 12443-10926, or 53-47 percent, victory.

When reached for a comment, Thomas, who spent the evening at her home in New Haven with family, said she was thankful for the voters who expressed confidence in her, and look forward to serving them as family law judge.

"I'll do my best to uphold their trust," Thomas said.

Likewise, Ballard, who said he was "sort of stunned" that he won, said when he takes office he hopes "to uphold my end of the bargain."

Those who come to his court, Ballard said, can expect a friendly staff, that, among other things, answers the telephone and a judge who will allow all people to be heard.

Furthermore, Cornett said she's eager to return to the bench so as to make improvements in the way cases are handled.

"I'm anxious to get started and serve the people," she said from her home in Cottageville. "I'm looking forward to making some big improvements."

Those improvements include cutting caseloads, listening to both sides and basing judgments on both the facts and the law.

Smallridge, Nibert and Karr were all contacted for a comment. However, all three did not return repeated telephone calls.

Like all family law judges, Ballard, Thomas and Cornett were elected to an eight-year term in this election, and begin serving Jan. 1.

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