CHARLESTON – Circuit Judge Tod J. Kaufman is starting his fourth stint as Chief Judge for Kanawha Circuit Court.
Kanawha is the largest trial court in the state, and judges are chosen as chief on a rotation. They serve a one-year term, but often serve more than once.
“I don’t have any agenda going into the job,” Kaufman said. “I’m very familiar with what’s expected of a Chief Judge, and I think it’s important that our court system remains safe for people to come in and out of and that the court building remains safe, and that it remains accessible.”
Kaufman said that’s a large part of the duties of the Chief Judge. He or she serves also as the administrative point person for the judicial process and all administrative processes in the circuit. This includes overseeing probation offices and alternative service programs.
“It is a wide area for a busy circuit, and it’s a lot of responsibility in a busy circuit,” Kaufman said.
In some courts across the country, the position of chief judge is a full-time job and the judge doesn’t have a docket during that time. In Kanawha County, the chief executor and the court administrative office carry out a lot of those functions so the Chief Judge can attend to case matters.
As the longest-serving judge in the circuit, Kaufman said he has a strong understanding of the needs of the circuit.
“All people are entitled to see judicial officers for an opportunity to be heard,” he said.
Making that happen means keeping the courts open as much as possible.
“In a sense it’s like a legal hospital, we’re open to fix problems to the extent that the court system can help to solve disputes,” Kaufman said. “It’s not a place people want to come to, because its unfamiliar, but the object is to make it user friendly to the extent that the rules and the limited resources and the personnel accommodate.
“That’s a challenge that each and every one of us have as public officials, every day.”
Kaufman served in the state Senate for six years. Before taking to the bench in 1988, Kaufman practiced law at his father’s law firm, Kaufman & Ratliff of Charleston. As a judge, he has tried 250 cases to jury verdicts. He has lectured internationally and has spoken at Tufts University and Harvard College.