A remedial civics lesson for Judge Ronald Wilson

By The West Virginia Record | Aug 5, 2011

Most people would be proud to be a legislator, a governor or a judge. Each is a position of prestige and responsibility.

In our American system of government, a citizen can hold only one of those three positions of public trust at a time. But it's not uncommon for legislators and governors later to become judges, governors and judges to become legislators (as Joe Manchin did when he assumed the senatorial seat long held by the late Robert Byrd), and legislators and judges to become governors.

A public servant is free to move from one branch of government to another, exchanging the duties and prerogatives of one for those of another. What the public servant cannot do lawfully, is to exercise the powers of a branch other than his own.

Judges, for instance, are not free to legislate. They might disagree strenuously with the intent of a legislative act under their review, but they do not have the right to nullify or amend it for that reason alone.

Circuit Judge Ronald Wilson doesn't seem to get this.

Recently, when the State Supreme Court rejected a challenge to the caps that our state legislature placed on non-economic damages in medical malpractice suits, Judge Wilson, sitting in for a justice who had recused himself, was the lone dissenter.

"It is not our prerogative to substitute our judgment for that of the Legislature," Chief Justice Margaret Workman wrote for the majority.

Judge Wilson felt no such constraint. Because he dislikes the caps, he blithely hoped to overrule the legislature and impose his will instead. Fortunately he lacked judicial support.

Wilson revealed his bias when he noted that the caps were passed in 2003, "when the political climate in West Virginia was changing and the state was becoming more conservative."

If he doesn't like the current composition of the Legislature, Wilson can relinquish his judgeship and run for a seat there. But he can't be a judge and a legislator at the same time.

More News

The Record Network