CHARLESTON – The election of a new Kanawha Circuit judge to replace the resigning Jim Stucky will take place in November.
Stucky, who had served as a judge since 1997, hadn’t heard cases since early March because of his health. He submitted his resignation letter April 17 to Gov. Jim Justice. He seeks disability retirement.
Judicial elections in West Virginia now are nonpartisan and usually occur in the May primaries. But because of the timing of Stucky’s resignation, state code mandates the election to be on the November general election ballot.
“When the vacancy occurs after the close of candidate filing for the primary election and not later than 84 days before the general election, and, if the unexpired term be for a period of greater than two years, the vacancy shall be filled by election in a nonpartisan judicial election held concurrently with the general election,” W.Va. Code § 3-10-3(d)(3) states.
Before the election, Justice will appoint a temporary replacement. Deak Kersey, elections director and deputy legal counsel with the Secretary of State’s office, said state code dictates that the appointment of a temporary judge will hold the position until the successor is elected and certified.
“Any vacancy occurring in the offices of ... judge of a circuit court ... is filled by the governor of the state by appointment and, if the unexpired term be for a period of more than two years, by a subsequent election to fill the remainder of the term,” W.Va. Code § 3-10-3(b) states. “If an election is required under subsection (d) of this section, the governor, circuit court or the chief judge thereof in vacation, is responsible for the proper proclamation by order and notice required by section one of this article.”
The notice from the state Judicial Vacancy Advisory Council will be released April 30, and applications for the temporary seat will be due to the governor’s office by June 4. Interviews will take place June 21, according to JVAC Chairwoman Debra Scudiere, an attorney at Kay Casto & Chaney in Morgantown. Then, the JVAC will provide a list of recommendations to Justice, who then will make an appointment to hold the seat until the November election.
“It is a critically important position, and the process deserves complete transparency,” said Kent Carper, a Kanawha County Commissioner, attorney and member of the JVAC. “And I can assure you the law will be followed. There are excellent, thoughtful business people and others on the commission who listen very carefully and weigh each application thoroughly.”
The filing period for a spot on the November ballot will open in August.
“When an election to fill a vacancy is required to be held at the general election … a special candidate filing period shall be established,” W.Va. Code § 3-10-3(e) states. “Candidates seeking election to any unexpired term for ... judge of a circuit court ... shall file a certificate of announcement and pay the filing fee no earlier than the first Monday in August and no later than 77 days before the general election.”
In his letter to Justice, Stucky said he was stepping down because of medical issues.
“I hereby am submitting my application for disability retirement,” Stucky wrote in his letter to Justice. “Upon your acceptance of my disability retirement from the Judges’ Retirement System, I tender my resignation upon the close of business on April 30, 2018.
“It has been an honor and privilege to serve the citizens of Kanawha County during my twenty years of service.”
Senior Status Judge Thomas Evans from Jackson County had been hearing Stucky’s cases. Evans asked for that appointment to end April 20, so state Supreme Court Chief Justice Margaret Workman appointed Senior Status Judge David Pancake from Cabell County to take over April 23, according to an April 18 order.
Stucky worked in the Kanawha County prosecutor’s office in the late 1970s before becoming prosecutor in the mid-1980s. Then, former Gov. Cecil Underwood appointed him to the judgeship in 1997. He since has been elected to eight-year terms, the last being in 2016.
"Judge Stucky is one of the finest men I've ever worked with," Carper said. "He has an unblemished career as a private attorney, prosecutor and judge. I've known Jim for more than 35 years. He and I have tried cases together. I've appeared before him, and I've had the privilege of supporting him.
“He is a role model to being a judge. He’s fair, objective and he would rule on issues before him in a timely manner.”