By RICHIE HEATH
CHARLESTON -- While a lot has been made about the amount of third party spending in West Virginia judicial elections, not much coverage has been devoted to the amount of money actually spent by judicial candidates in recent elections for West Virginia's high court.
The 2012 Court elections look to be no exception, begging the question of whether personal wealth is a necessary requirement for service on the state Supreme Court.
Just this past week, Supreme Court candidate Tish Chafin announced that she was loaning her campaign a whopping $1 million dollars. As The Charleston Daily Mail reports:
"Chafin, of Charleston, is married to Sen. Truman Chafin, D-Mingo, and plans to draw on their wealth during the campaign to distinguish herself in a crowded Democratic primary field. Six Democrats are vying for two spots on the court."
Over the years, the Chafins have worked together in an extremely successful personal injury law firm. And it appears that Tish Chafin is now hoping those legal fees will translate into a position on the Supreme Court.
Wealthy personal injury lawyers certainly have a good track record over the years.
In 1996, Supreme Court Justice Robin Jean Davis was first elected to the Court -– loaning her campaign nearly $250,000 in the process. Four years later, Justice Davis won re-election to the Court thanks, in part, to more than $350,000 in personal loans.
Justices Menis Ketchum and Margaret Workman also relied heavily on their personal wealth in winning election to the Court in 2008. Chief Justice Ketchum loaned his campaign a total of $640,000, while Justice Workman contributed slightly more than $600,000 of her own money.
But Chafin's announcement immediately dwarfs the campaign spending of those Justices, and raises some serious questions about the state of judicial elections in West Virginia.
Is personal wealth now a pre-requisite for selection to the West Virginia Supreme Court? Do judicial elections in West Virginia favor wealthy trial lawyers over experienced judges?
Is justice for sale in West Virginia, with Supreme Court seats going to the highest bidder?
Heath is executive director of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse.