CHARLESTON — Former Senate president and current Supreme Court candidate Jeff Kessler hopes to instill confidence in the court if he is elected.
Kessler said campaigning has been busy, but the time constraint of the compressed election cycle makes it tough to visit the entire state.
"It’s a big state and hard to get around everywhere," Kessler said in an interview with The West Virginia Record. "You can’t go everywhere in a short campaign. You have to go to as many events you can and do what you can."
Kessler said running for a judicial office is very unique.
"You’re basically running in a straight jacket because you’re not allowed to ask for money and you’re not allowed to tell anybody how you’ll rule in cases before you," Kessler said. "You’re sort of running on, ‘Hey, trust me, I’m a good guy and I’ll follow the law and the Constitution and give fair rulings.’"
Kessler said with 20 people all out saying the same thing, it’s hard to differentiate candidates.
"You can’t be critical of the current court or any court," Kessler said. "You can’t be critical of the other candidates. You can’t ask for funding and you sort of just say 'trust me' and 'I’ll restore the honor and integrity of the court.' Which is all true, but what I’ve been emphasizing is that I’ve been practicing uninterrupted for 37 years."
Kessler said he has a wide and varied legal background.
"I never took a break," Kessler said. "I was a senator for 19 years, a Senate president for four of them and a minority leader for two and I never took a break. I still practiced law. I continued to take care of people and my clients in my community. I do adoption to probate, so I’ve been taking care of clients from cradle to grave my entire life."
Kessler said when he chose not to run for re-election in 2016 and did not win in his campaign for governor, he thought he was done.
"I have five kids and it’s nice to go to their games, tuck them in at night, those types of things you miss when you’re in politics," Kessler said. "But, when charges came down on a couple of the sitting justices and then when they decided to impeach all of them, it appeared to me that there were going to be potentially five members removed from one branch and replaced by another branch."
Kessler said having been an attorney and loving and living the law his entire life, it troubled him to see the court become a political football.
"People were losing confidence in our court system and judiciary," Kessler said. "I believe that practicing law and politics, while similar, that as an attorney you help people and solve problems on a micro-level, but it gives you a sense of satisfaction when you can use the law to solve problems. Politicians, when they’re doing it well, are on a macro-level where they’re helping societal problems on a larger level."
Kessler said there is no higher calling than public service.
"I want to show people that as a judge I will be just as honest and fair as I’ve been in private practice and in my political career," Kessler said. "I think that would go a long way to help our judicial system."
Kessler said if people look at his experience and his background, he can say there are very few areas of the law that he doesn't have some working knowledge of practicing.
"I think you will see that I’ve done everything from cradle to grave and I think that gives me a unique perspective," Kessler said. "If I lose, I will know I’ve done everything I can to try to stop the carnage."
Kessler is a former Democratic member of the West Virginia State Senate, where he represented District 2 from 1997 until 2016. He served as minority leader in 2015 and 2016. He was the Senate president from 2011 until 2014.
In 2016, Kessler ran against Gov. Jim Justice in the Democratic primary for governor and received approximately 60,000 votes.
Kessler is running in Division 2, which is for former Justice Robin Jean Davis' seat, which expires in 2024.