17 apply for state Supreme Court seat

By Chris Dickerson | Dec 4, 2018

CHARLESTON – Seventeen people applied for the vacancy on the  West Virginia Supreme Court created by the resignation of convicted former Justice Allen Loughry.

The following people applied: Robert Carlton of Charleston, Gregory Chiartis of Charleston, Bradley Crouser of Charleston, James Douglas of Charleston, Lee Feinberg of Charleston, Robert Frank of Lewisburg, John Hutchison of Beckley, Brendan Long of Scott Depot, Louis Palmer of Charleston, Jim Rowe of Lewisburg, William Schwartz of Charleston, Mark Sorsaia of Hurricane, Joanna Tabit of Charleston, Harry Taylor of Charleston, Joseph Wallace of Elkins, Rusty Webb of Charleston and Bill Wooton of Beckley.

Six of those applicants – Carlton, Douglas, Frank, Long, Schwartz and Tabit – were on the ballot last month for two seats on the bench. Tim Armstead and Evan Jenkins, both of whom already had been appointed by Gov. Jm Justice, won those elections.

Hutchison and Tabit currently are circuit judges in Raleigh and Kanawha Counties, respectively. Hutchison is a longtime personal friend of Justice who delivered the oath of office when Justice was inaugurated in 2017. Tabit received the highest number of votes behind Jenkins and Armstead in last month's Supreme Court races.

Douglas is a Kanawha Family Court Judge. Rowe is a former circuit judge in Greenbrier and Pocahontas counties. Sorsaia is Putnam County's Prosecuting Attorney. Wooton is a former legislator. 

The person picked by Justice will serve until the next judicial election, which is May 2020. The person who wins that race will serve until December 2024, which is when Loughry's term was scheduled to end.

The JVAC will conduct interviews for the vacancy Dec. 11. The JVAC is a mix of attorneys and lay members that interviews applicants for judicial vacancies on the state Supreme Court, Circuit Courts and Family Courts. JVAC Chairwoman Debra Scudiere said the committee deliberates after the interviews and then sends a list of the two to five persons it believes are the most qualified candidates to the governor's office.

"Then the governor makes his pick," Scudiere said. "He can choose from the names that we have offered, or he can make a selection outside that list."

Earlier this year, the JVAC conducted interviews to fill the Supreme Court seats of retired Justices Menis Ketchum and Robin Jean Davis. In August, the commission interviewed a total of 13 candidates for the two vacancies on the court. They recommended a total of nine names (four for one vacancy, and five for the other) to Gov. Jim Justice.

This round of interviews will be for someone to fill the seat of Loughry, who resigned earlier this month after he was found guilty on 11 federal felony counts of wire fraud, mail fraud, witness tampering and lying to federal agents. He faced impeachment before his resignation, and he still must go before the state Judicial Investigation Commission to answer charges of 32 counts of misconduct. 

His federal sentencing is scheduled for January.

Loughry's term lasts until 2024, but this appointment will serve until 2020 when the next election takes place. Whoever is elected then will serve through 2024.

Scudiere said the process for a position on the Supreme Court basically is the same as when the JVAC recommends names for any other open seat.

"The biggest difference is that the interviews for vacancies on Circuit Courts and Family Courts are usually 15-20 minutes," she told The West Virginia Record. "For the interviews for the last two Supreme Court vacancies, the commission decided to expand that time to half an hour.

"I don’t know whether, for the interviews for this third Supreme Court vacancy, the commissioners will want to keep the half-hour schedule or go back to shorter interview times. That will probably depend on how many applicants we have."

Also on Dec. 4, the JVAC said four people applied to fill a newly created 19th Circuit Judge position serving Barbour and Taylor counties. Those four are Frank Bush of Elkins, Roger Curry of Philippi, Shawn Nines of Grafton and Leckta Poling of Philippi. Those interviews also will take place Dec. 11.

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