CALA: Berger's replacement an important decision

By Justin Anderson | Jul 14, 2009


CHARLESTON -- A non-profit legal advocacy group is calling on Gov. Joe Manchin to choose wisely in naming a replacement for Kanawha Circuit Judge Irene Berger, who was nominated to fill a federal court vacancy.

West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse said Manchin must be careful in picking a judge that will carry on Berger's being "fair and impartial."

"It is essential for Kanawha County that her successor has a similar respect for the law and does not represent the interests of one special interest group," said Richie Heath, CALA's executive director, in a statement.

Heath pointed to the chronic criticism of the state being a "judicial hellhole." He said while most of the blame gets foisted on the state Supreme Court, circuit judges can play a vital role in repairing the perceived problems in the state's judiciary.

Heath said since the state Supreme Court can reject to hear full arguments in appeals, circuit judges often are the "final authority" in cases. He added that circuit judges can bar lawsuits from being filed here that have flimsy connections to the state.

"Reform of West Virginia's legal system must include the circuit courts," Heath said. "Through the selection of fair and impartial circuit judges, we can improve our state legal system as a whole."

The process to pick Berger's replacement won't begin until she is confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Manchin's general counsel, Jonathan Deem, said he believes a vote will arise by late summer or early fall.

Deem said a committee will be seated consisting of a Manchin representative, the dean of the West Virginia University College of Law, the president of the State Bar, two representatives of the legal community and two lay persons.

"The committee will solicit applications for the vacancy, evaluate the applications, vet the candidates, interview potential nominees and make recommendations to the governor on the appointment," Deem said.

President Barack Obama announced his nomination of Berger earlier this month. If confirmed, she will be the state's first black federal judge.

Berger will replace David Faber, a longtime judge in the U.S. District Court for Southern West Virginia.

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