CHARLESTON — Supreme Court Candidate Chris Wilkes said if he's elected, there won't be a learning curve.
"The concept of putting aside your personal and political ideology when deciding a case is not easy and I’ve been doing that for a quarter of a century," Wilkes said in an interview with The West Virginia Record. "It’s very hard and defies human nature to make a decision on something that you may personally disagree with but you’re bound by your oath to decide the case because that’s the way the law is."
Wilkes said that’s the paramount duty as a judge—to fairly impartially apply the law of fact.
"You can’t bring preconceived notions of being conservative or liberal," Wilkes said. "Our role as judges is to accept the law as passed by the Legislature and if it does not offend the Constitution, we have to apply that law whether we personally agree with it or disagree with it."
Wilkes, who has been a circuit judge in the 23rd Judicial Circuit since 1993, said campaigning is going well.
"I’m hearing a lot of good things and getting a lot of positive support around the state, which is always heartening," Wilkes said. "I don't think [what's currently going on] makes it harder. But, I think some of the questions are on subjects that you generally wouldn’t receive during a judicial election."
Wilkes said there is a lot more emphasis on the candidates experience administering court systems and working within the budget.
"It's taking a lot away from those policy-oriented questions," Wilkes said. "From a judge’s standpoint, it’s a little bit easier to campaign because we’re so limited in what we can address on policy issues. Generally, we cannot comment upon policy matters, but the administering questions I can answer and I welcome the questions about how I’ve administered the largest circuit for the last 25 years."
Wilkes said politics do not belong on the Supreme Court.
"There are plenty of politicians in the Capitol," Wilkes said. "The one place you don’t want them is those five seats on the Supreme Court."
Wilkes said the vast majority of his professional life has been as a proud member of the West Virginia Judicial Association and as a judge.
"The general public perception of the state judiciary, not only within West Virginia but throughout the nation is quite an embarrassment now because of what’s going on in Charleston and I thought that I have the skills and experience to be able to restore integrity and predictability and consistency needed in our highest court," Wilkes said.
If elected, Wilkes hopes to restore a sense of civility, not only amongst the justices but with the other branches of government.
"We have to recognize that we have three distinct but equal branches of government and they all deserve respect," Wilkes said. "We aren’t going to move this state forward in anything if we don’t talk about the business necessary to dispense justice, set budgets and work on those administrative issues that the public and the Constitution anticipates the cooperative effort of our whole government."
Wilkes said he thinks that is what is currently missing.
"People have become too territorial of their branch of government," Wilkes said. "We have to respect the Legislature’s power and policy of making the law, just as they have to respect our power and policy of interpreting the law and the governor’s power and policy of enforcing the law."
Wilkes said he has six times more judicial experience than the other candidates in Division 1.
"I also have had the duty of presiding in the largest and fastest growing circuit in the state, so I have more administrative experience within the court system than any of the others," Wilkes said. "As chief judge, I am the administrative head of the circuit. I think that qualifies me head and shoulders above the rest."
Wilkes said many do not realize that Supreme Court justices spend the majority of their work is reviewing the rulings and actions of circuit judges.
"I’ve been in the trenches for over 25 years and I know how to make those rulings," Wilkes said. "To have people suddenly reviewing those actions who have never done it is like having a lifeguard who has never been swimming or a range-master who has never fired a weapon."
Wilkes said judges have a huge impact on the people of West Virginia.
"The decision made by a judge has a profound impact on a person’s life and I think we can never forget that we work for the people," Wilkes said.