Last week, Emma Gallimore interviewed me by phone for a story in The West Virginia Record. I wanted to clarify a few things in the story.
These clarifications are important to emphasize the collegial nature of judging in a multi-judge circuit and the equal responsibilities shared by all seven circuit judges and every circuit judge in our state.
While administratively the chief judge may reassign cases in instances of a conflict, the chief judge does not oversee criminal sentencing. Each individual judge does. This is an important factor, as criminal sentencing is not an administrative function of courts but an important substantive one for each trial judge.
The chief judge does not directly supervise other department employees, the other departments and other heads, the probation circuit clerk, magistrates, court clerks and other department heads. Supervision of all staff is up to supervisors, except those who are directly reportable to each judge. This is important because all judges have laws and rules to obey in overseeing personnel and that departments remain somewhat autonomous in specific situations. The Chief Judge should show leadership in guiding policy questions of the circuit.
The chief judge only appoints lawyers in criminal cases where indigent defendants in Kanawha County are concerned who still need counsel. This again is an important substantive function each individual judge oversees in cases assigned to them.
On the subject of my lecturing internationally on complex multi-state business litigation, I don’t want the reference to suggest expertise on a subject where, from my part, leaves much for me to desire. However, based on my judicial role in a national class action case (Community Health Assn v. Lucent Technologies, C.A. No. 99-C-948 in the Kanawha Circuit Court), I was invited to speak in Rijeka, Croatia in 2005 (and was published in two languages) on “Class Action and Consumers in the American Law” but have not spoken or lectured on that topic since.
Finally, the chief judgeship of Kanawha County rotates every year. Each judge’s turn as chief comes up only once every seven years. All seven jurists have the say on our own individual dockets and procedures. The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals is the highest court in the state, setting rules and procedures for all courts in the state to follow as we are a unified judicial system in West Virginia.
Thank you for this opportunity to clarify. I’m grateful, too, for reporter Gallimore’s effort to tackle a complicated subject of administration to inform the public in some small way of what one judges’ term in the rotation will involve.
Judge Tod J. Kaufman
(Editor's Note: Kaufman currently is chief judge of Kanawha Circuit Court.)