CHARLESTON – Carrie Webster has been picked as the next Kanawha Circuit judge.
Currently, the House of Delegates Judiciary Chairwoman, Webster was one of seven candidates for Judge Irene C. Berger's seat on the Kanawha bench. Berger recently was appointed to a federal judgeship. That left Manchin the task of appointing Berger's replacement.
"We were fortunate to have an outstanding group of highly qualified candidates for this position, which is one of the busiest circuits in the state," Gov. Joe Manchin said in a press release about the appointment. "Carrie Webster is a passionate lawyer and dedicated public servant, and I am confident she will be an excellent circuit court judge who will faithfully serve the citizens of Kanawha County.
"She has tackled many difficult and complex legal issues, both as a lawyer and as House Judiciary Chair. With her experience, Carrie will bring a unique and familiar perspective to any legal issue she is confronted with on the bench."
The other six candidates were Charleston attorneys Joanna Tabit, Kathy Brown, Katherine Louise Dooley and David Cecil; Phyllis Carter, an administrative law judge with the state Human Rights Commission; and West Virginia State Court of Claims Judge John G. Hackney Jr.
The seven candidates were evaluated by the Governor's Advisory Committee on Judicial Nominations.
"I want to thank all the candidates for their interest in serving the people of Kanawha County, and the advisory committee for their insight and evaluation," Manchin said. "There is a vast amount of experience and talent in the applicants and I was impressed with all of them."
Webster's appointment did not draw praise across the board.
The executive director of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse said he fears Webster's appointment "does little to improve the overall reputation of our state's judiciary."
"Delegate Webster's legal qualifications pale in comparison to those of other candidates, as well as the person she is succeeding, Judge Irene Berger," Richie Heath said Wednesday afternoon. "As House Judiciary Chair, Webster has pushed for legislation that unconstitutionally burdens free speech rights, turned a blind-eye to the questionable legal practices of Attorney General Darrell McGraw, and exhibited a partisan demeanor that would be unbecoming of a judge."
Heath said Webster's appointment "smacks of partisan politics" and raises serious questions about the future of judicial appointments in our state.
"If this appointment process has taught us anything, it is that greater transparency is needed for any future appointment of judicial vacancies," Heath said. "WV CALA would urge the Governor's judicial advisory committee to release their report and/or recommendations so that the public has a full account of this appointment process, including the qualifications of all nominees."
Webster has been a member of the West Virginia House of Delegates since 2001, and chair of the Judiciary Committee since 2006. She currently is an associate with the Charleston law firm of Bucci, Bailey & Javins, and served as assistant public defender for the Kanawha County Public Defender's office from 1997 to 2000. She was a law clerk for West Virginia Legal Services Corp. and also was an assistant and press secretary for former West Virginia Attorneys General Charlie Brown and Roger Tomkins.
She is a member of the West Virginia Association of Justice's Board of Governors and the American Association of Justice, and has been a member of the West Virginia Bar since 1997.
Because Webster is being appointed now, she will have to run for the seat in next year's election. Now, Manchin must appoint a replacement for Webster's House seat.
Webster said she is humbled by the confidence Manchin has shown in her by making this appointment.
"I am grateful for the opportunity to continue my public service as a circuit judge," she said in the press release. "As the appointed successor to the judicial seat held by the Honorable Judge Irene Berger, I will dedicate myself to meeting the high standards that she has set.
"I will work hard, treat all parties with fairness and respect, and conduct myself in the dignified and ethical manner that all of us expect of our judicial officers."
One of the other potential replacements already has offered Webster her best wishs.
"I would like to congratulate Carrie Webster on being named the replacement for Judge Irene Berger," Brown said Wednesday afternoon. "Carrie is a hard worker and will do a wonderful job for the residents of Kanawha County. She has worked tirelessly as a House of Delegate representative and as Judiciary Chairperson. I wish her the best of luck."
In a recent interview with The West Virginia Record, Webster said she always had an interest in law from the time she was young and looked up to her grandfather, Ralph J. Bean Sr.
"My grandfather was a big community person and was always involved with public services," Webster said. "I always knew I wanted to serve the public in some capacity, I wanted to help people."
Webster said she always instinctively wanted to make sure everyone had a voice.
"I've spent time with programs involved with low-income families and children, and when you work with these groups, you really start to appreciate what you have," Webster said. "I grew up with so much more than most, and it's easy to isolate yourself from those worse off, but it's through community service, church and other forms of public services that force you out of your cocoon and out into the world."
Webster said when Berger was rumored for the federal bench, people asked her if she was considering the circuit judge seat that would be vacant.
"People told me to go for it now and not to wait," she said. "Judge Berger is an extremely hard-working judge and an extraordinary person. Whichever one of us is chosen will have big shoes to fill."
Webster is also recognized for her leadership and her passion for advocacy on behalf of consumers, workers, women and children.
"I can use my skills and experiences to do the job," she said. "Judgeship is the natural progression for me. I'm an extremely fair person and a hard worker and I thrive on making sure everyone has their say. You have to be fair and professional and I can do both."
Webster has received numerous awards, including the NAACP Image Award -- Charleston Chapter in 2008, Galperin Voice of Democracy Award in 2008, the St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church "Extraordinary Woman of the Valley Award" in 2007, West Virginia Free Champions of Choice Award in 2006, West Virginia Minority Business Center Special Recognition Award in 2005, the West Virginia Troopers Association Supporter Award in 2002 and many others.
Webster received her bachelor's degree in Political Science from West Virginia University in 1988 and received her law degree from the WVU College of Law in 1997. She was born in Fairfax, Va., grew up in Moorefield, W.Va., and has lived in Charleston since 1989. She is married to Greg Skinner and has a daughter, Katherine.