CHARLESTON – Longtime Kanawha County Magistrate Kim Aaron has retired, and has asked that her replacement be a person of color.
In her retirement letter to Kanawha Circuit Chief Judge Joanna Tabit, Aaron said she wanted to use her voice “to promote diversity.”
““I want to leave the court more diverse than when I became a magistrate,” Aaron wrote. Her retirement was effective last week.
Tabit will appoint a replacement to serve the rest of Aaron’s term, which expires in 2020. Aaron served 16 years as a magistrate.
In her letter, Aaron said she believes the entire state court system lacks diversity.
“To that end, I feel extreme disappointment,” she wrote. “Paraphrasing the wisdom of a great man and excellent jurist West Virginia Supreme Court Justice, Franklin D. Cleckley, said the West Virginia Judiciary is ‘pale and male’ and there is ‘injustice in the lack of judicial diversity.’
"Justice Cleckley was a giant in the West Virginia legal community and was scholarly in all opinions. Currently, the courts are less ‘male’ but still ‘pale.’
"I am sure that this request is going to make some people very uncomfortable. Good! I want everyone to hear my message - selecting a qualified person of color as magistrate is a reasonable request."
Tabit said she respects Aaron’s retirement request.
“I’m being thoughtful about the process,” Tabit told The West Virginia Record. “This is an important position to fill. So, I have been accepting applications.
“I certainly appreciate her (Aaron’s) perspective, and I’m mindful of those issues. And I agree with her. But I’m also proud to note that as it relates to Kanawha County, four out of our seven circuit judges are female.
“Notwithstanding, when I talk about diversity, I don’t just think in terms of gender and race. I think about religious, sexual orientation … any other defining characteristic in people that makes things more diverse.”
Tabit said she also believes the judiciary should be representative of the population it serves.
“That being said, I’m going to continue to be thoughtful and appoint the person who I think is best qualified to serve the county,” Tabit said. “And, I do have some applications from some very qualified individuals.”
While she wants to make an appointment as soon as possible, Tabit said she plans to interview top contenders.
“I want to talk to these applicants about their qualifications, their ideas and their approach to the position,” Tabit said.
For now, former Putnam County Magistrate Kim Blair is helping fill Aaron’s position.
“We are working through being one magistrate down,” Tabit said. “We’ve had similar situations before, and everyone works well together and steps up.”