CHARLESTON -- The weather is turning colder, but the race for a Kanawha Circuit Court seat is heating up.
This week, Republican candidate Dan Greear's campaign issued a press release saying interim Judge Carrie Webster has "unilaterally postponed numerous criminal hearings, most of which have involved felony charges."
Greear's campaign said that "by delaying criminal hearings, the defendants either remain incarcerated at the expense of the county or are released on bond and are free to reoffend. Other risks of delaying cases include extending undue grief of victims and their families; ongoing litigation fees; and a rising county jail bill."
Webster, who was appointed to the judgeship when former Circuit Judge Irene Berger was nominated to the federal bench, says Greear's numbers simply are not correct.
"If he is suggesting that I am soft on crime, then look at my criminal numbers," she said Thursday. "They are double what they were a year ago. You have to look at all the numbers. My criminal and my civil docket are moving forward.
"Am I perfect? No, but I'm working hard. You have to have a handle on how you run the court, deal with parties, communicate with parties and handle things. I've had a full- or a half-day docket every day from the beginning. I've had two civil trials. If there has been any type of proceeding that needed attention, it gets it.
"If he had had a request from my office to produce that information, it would have been provided. He would have found that at least a third of what he is saying wasn't held actually was held or was continued."
Greear also said that if he elected, he would be mindful of the county jail bill and would work diligently to keep both the criminal and civil dockets moving forward.
"Being a judge is not a 9 to 5 job; a judge must study the facts of each case along with the law, just as an attorney preparing for trial would do," Greear said in his release. "I am fully committed to hearing cases in a timely fashion and ensure that justice is delivered without delay."
Greear said that by delaying criminal hearings, defendants either remain incarcerated at the expense of the county or are released on bond and are free to reoffend. He said other risks of delaying cases include extending undue grief of victims and their families; ongoing litigation fees; and a rising county jail bill.
"Most people will never be in front of a circuit judge in their lifetime, but if you ever find yourself in that position, you want a judge who is fair and hard-working," Greear said. "I will work to swiftly move the docket, while spending the time necessary to research, study and prepare for each case."
Greear's campaign said Webster recently has postponed more than 30 criminal hearings, many involving felonies.
"His campaign didn't get those numbers from the (circuit) clerk or from me," Webster said. "It's mischaracterized. It's inaccurate. The numbers did not come from me. They're not right.
"Lawyers and judges are always under scrutiny. During my eight months, my criminal conviction rate has more than doubled. It's all in the numbers. There can be no suggestion that the numbers reflect a lack of efficiency. ... We're the busiest circuit court in the state. His assertion that you leave people in jail or you let them walk the streets ... it's just inappropriate. It demeans the judicial process.
"I'm not going to be efficient just for efficiency's sake. If I were delaying justice for civil litigants just because I didn't want to have a trial, that would be one thing. But they got their day in court. I don't want to reschedule hearings. I want to get things off of my docket."