HARPERS FERRY -- If West Virginians want change this year, John Yoder says he can provide it.
Yoder, a Republican running for an unexpired term on the state Supreme Court of Appeals, currently is a circuit judge in the 23rd Judicial Circuit that covers Jefferson, Berkeley, and Morgan counties. He said he thinks his campaign against sitting Justice Tom McHugh is going "very well."
"This a year where West Virginians want change like most of the nation, but I think they recognize we need some changes within our state to help bring jobs to the state," Yoder, 59, said. "That is one of the things my campaign is about -- trying to change the anti-business climate of the court."
The campaign between Yoder and McHugh has remained civil, but Yoder said there are some distinct differences between the candidates.
"Two things we've disagreed on have been whether judicial campaigns should be partisan political elections," he said. "I support non-partisan races or merit selection of judges. Politics doesn't have a place in the court system. One of the problems with our court system is that it's so political. There's a perception that rulings are made based on politics, not law.
"And secondly, he does not support an intermediate court of appeals. I'm open to having one. Our court system has a reputation of being very anti-business. He seems to be in a position of supporting the status quo. I think we have to acknowledge that with the perception of the court system, it's costing us jobs. We need to do something to change that image and fix it."
Yoder also has talked on the campaign trail about how all five of the current Justices are from the Charleston-Huntington area -- and four of the five are from Charleston.
"People can relate to that," he said. "What I've seen is that most people aren't aware of that. Once it's brought up, it becomes a concern. Kanawha County only has 10 percent of the population, but it has four of the five current judges."
Yoder said he hasn't been able to campaign as much as he'd like.
"It's a large state," he said. "There's still more I could cover if I had half a year. But I have a full-time job, so most of my travel has been limited to evenings and weekends. There have been a couple of times I've had jury trials that settled, so I was able to pull off a few more trips that I wasn't expecting."
Yoder's political career has seen him serve in all three branches of government as well as work in the private sector.
After serving four years as a Kansas circuit judge from 1976-1980, Yoder was selected in a national competition to serve at the United States Supreme Court as a Supreme Court Fellow in 1980. After that, the Chief Justice of the United States hired him to work on his staff. President Reagan next appointed him to establish and run a new subdivision at the U.S. Department of Justice. After that, he was twice elected as a West Virginia State Senator to two four-year terms prior to being elected as a judge in 2008.
Yoder graduated from Chapman University, and he received his law degree from the University of Kansas and an MBA at the University of Chicago.
While he thinks he has "an excellent chance of winning," Yoder said he plans to run again for the Court – win or lose this year – in 2012.
"I think that it is so very important for us to have a court system with predictable opinions in order to attract businesses here who want to invest their money and create jobs," Yoder said. "It's a lot about creating jobs, bringing in more tax revenue, creating businesses here so our children and grandchildren don't have to move out of state to find jobs."