The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals includes Justice Margaret Workman (standing left), Justice Thomas McHugh (standing right), Justice Robin Jean Davis (sitting, left), Chief Justice Menis Ketchum (sitting center) and Justice Brent Benjamin (sitting right). (Photo courtesy of the state Supreme Court)
CHARLESTON – Menis Ketchum's goals for 2012 are simple: Get work done.
Just starting his first year as Chief Justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, the Wayne County native said he doesn't have any special projects in mind when he looks ahead to the year-long tenure. He just wants to focus on the work of the Court.
"My goal simply is to hear litigants' arguments, give them a lot of consideration and then decide the appeals," he said Tuesday. "I like this court we have now. It's just an old-fashioned court that considers a lot of appeals and issues a lot of decisions."
Ketchum, 68, took over as Chief Justice on Jan. 1 from Justice Margaret Workman. The Court voted to grant him that position during its last Administrative Conference of 2011. Justice Thomas E. McHugh will assume the duties of Chief Justice in cases in which Ketchum is recused.
Ketchum said he is proud of the work that has been done since he joined the court in 2009.
"In the past three years, this court has eliminated our backlog," he said proudly. "We now have no backlog of cases. After both parties have filed their briefs, we are issuing written decisions on 99 percent of the cases within 8 to 10 months of both parties filing their legal briefs.
"We have worked out the backlog of appeals, including the Workers' Comp appeals."
Ketchum said some projects, such as the recent Access To Justice spearheaded by Justice Brent Benjamin, will continue.
"The projects that the other justices – they did those over and above their regular work," Ketchum said. "And while they're really meritorious projects, I have none.
"Instead, I really just want to concentrate on our appeals -- the work of the Court. And while I won't have a special project, I will be doing some things to help streamline our civil process for cases in our trial courts and to minimize the expenses of civil trial cases."
The position of Chief Justice traditionally is rotated each year. Ketchum said he sees both sides of the title.
"Being Chief Justice is an honor, but the court still works as a committee," he said. "My vote still is only 20 percent."
Ketchum said he's also proud of the fact that, after one year in use, the new Revised Rules for Appellate Procedure are working.
"One thing I can emphasize it is that we really have worked out under our new system is that there is an appeal by right where each appeal is now fully decided on its merits with a written decision," he said. "We have still eliminated the backlog of cases where we're current. Yet, each case is being given plenty of consideration.
"The system has worked so well that the National Center for State Courts has certified in writing that, in West Virginia, each appeal is now decided on its merits with a written appeal.
"Some of the written decisions are called memorandum decisions. But 57 percent of the memorandum decisions in 2011 were workers' comp appeals and abuse and neglect appeals. These are cases which do not have complicated factual or legal issues. There usually is no need to write a 50-page opinion on such a case."
Ketchum also said the new Workers' Compensation reforms that were implemented are working.
"In 2006, there were 2,473 Workers' Compensation appeals. And in 2007, there were 2,894," he said. "Those were appeals filed during the transition period into the new reforms.
In 2011, there were 532 Workers' Comp appeals. That means there has been an 82 percent decline in Workers' Comp appeals from 2007 to 2011."
Ketchum also noted that there were 343 civil appeals to the Court in 2010 and 374 in 2011.
"The point is that we just have plenty of time to consider each civil appeal and criminal appeal and issue a written decision on the merits of each case," he said. "And that's what we're doing.
"I'm very proud of our new rules of appellate procedure and how this court works to give each appeal full consideration."
With 2012 being an election year, two seats on the Court are up for grabs. Justice Robin Jean Davis is running for re-election, but Justice McHugh is not.
Ketchum said the election won't change the work of the court.
"The election won't affect us a bit," he said. "The only one currently on the court running is Justice Davis, and she's such a hard worker. I've never seen anyone work as hard as she does. She won't let her campaign slow her down a bit at work."
Ketchum was elected to a full 12-year term in 2008. He was born in 1943 in Huntington, and was raised in Wayne County. He attended Ohio University, where he played varsity baseball and was a member of the 1964 Mid-American Conference Championship Baseball Team.
Ketchum then attended West Virginia University College of Law. While in law school he was a contributing writer and associate editor of the West Virginia Law Review. He received his law degree in 1967 and returned to Huntington to join his father, Chad W. Ketchum, in the practice of law with the firm of Greene, Ketchum & Baker. He practiced at that firm and its successors, eventually becoming the senior partner, until his election to the Court. Ketchum's law practice included insurance defense, personal injury and criminal defense.
He was recognized continuously from 1989 to 2008 in The Best Lawyers in America and was a member of the Leading Honoraries, the American College of Trial Lawyers, and the American Board of Trial Advocates.
Throughout his legal career, he published legal articles and presented numerous continuing legal education seminars.
Ketchum also served as a member of the Board of Governors of Marshall University from 2002 until his campaign for the Court, and served as Chairman or Vice Chairman of the Board from 2003 until 2008. At the time of his election to the Court, he served on the Boards of the Public Defender Corporations for the Sixth and 24th Judicial Circuits.
He previously served on the Huntington Urban Renewal Authority, participated in the statewide Vision Shared Health Care Team, and the Governor's Mine Safety Task Force.
Ketchum has been married to the former Judy Varnum since 1966. They have three children -- Kelli Morgan, Bert Ketchum, and Chad Ketchum -- and six grandchildren.