Gov. Manchin: Great judges are dispassionate and impartial

By The West Virginia Record | Dec 4, 2009

We are troubled by Gov. Joe Manchin's selection of House of Delegates Judiciary Chairwoman Carrie Webster to replace Kanawha Circuit Judge Irene Berger, who recently was appointed to a federal judgeship.

In announcing his selection for the Kanawha Circuit position, Manchin described Webster as "a passionate lawyer and dedicated public servant" who will "bring a unique and familiar perspective to any legal issue she is confronted with on the bench."

There's something unsettling about that word "passionate." It strikes us as a peculiar epithet for a lawyer. After all, lawyers are supposed to be dispassionate. That's a sine qua non for the legal profession. Clients are passionate. Passion clouds vision, which is why we hire lawyers to argue the law dispassionately.

If lawyers should be dispassionate, so much more so judges. Dispassionate and impartial. But Manchin affirms that Webster is not dispassionate, and we know from her record in the House of Delegates that Webster is not impartial.

That brings us to Manchin's other peculiar and unsettling word choice -- perspective.

Is it partiality that we look for in lawyers and judges, or is it knowledge and respect for the law? Do we want judges to rule according to their prejudices, or do we want them to rule on the laws passed by our elected legislators and apply the precedents established by their predecessors on the bench?

We're not sure how a perspective can be unique and familiar at the same time, as Manchin described Webster's, but hers can't be both. Her perspective may be familiar, but it's hardly unique. In fact, it's anti-business, pro-trial bar and anti-tradition.

Passion and perspective, the two qualities that Gov. Manchin cites as Webster's primary qualifications seem to be overriding reasons for disqualification.

Next year the people of West Virginia will get to vote for or against the passionate and partial Judge Webster.

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