My first 90 days on the state Supreme Court

By John Hutchison | May 6, 2019

CHARLESTON – On December 12, 2018, Gov. Jim Justice appointed me to fill the vacant seat on the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia. At that time, I assumed that I would have a reasonable amount of time to make the transition from 23 ½ years on the circuit bench in Raleigh County to taking office and starting my career as a Justice in Charleston.

Wrong!

The day after the governor’s announcement, I was contacted by then-Chief Justice Margaret Workman who told me I needed to be in Charleston immediately to participate in the interview process for the selection of a new Administrative Director. 

I also received a significant amount of reading material related to policies under consideration by the Supreme Court, as well as bench briefs and other documentation for upcoming arguments. 

From December 12, 2018, through January 4, 2019, a total of 23 days, I was in Charleston 12 days in meetings and conferences. Remember we also had a “major” holiday during that period of time. I was brought up to speed on the policies under consideration, the budget proposal which was being presented to the Legislature in January and additional information regarding upcoming oral arguments. 

During that period of time, I was also required to organize an office, hire an administrative assistant, interview and hire four staff attorneys and, finally, pack and close out my office in Beckley, where I had conducted court business for nearly quarter of a century.

I was sworn in as the fifth Justice on January 4, 2019, by new Chief Justice Beth Walker. That was on a Friday. On Monday I was finally granted the opportunity to attempt to organize my office space. On Tuesday, January 8, 2019, I sat for the very first time as a full-time Justice to hear arguments.

Since that time, the Court has continued to be very busy. We have adopted policies designed to create transparency in the way the Court operates. In doing so, we have adopted: Travel Policy and Standards, Purchasing Card Policy and Procedures, Asset Management Policy and Procedures, and Procurement Policies and Procedures. 

In addition to addressing financial issues, the Court has reviewed and adopted major policies for the Division of Probation Services and the Division of Technology Services. This is in addition to completing hours of reading in preparation for hearing oral arguments and participating in the numerous administrative conferences following each case presented to the Court.

The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia employs approximately 1,500 people statewide. Significant administrative effort is exerted by the members of the Court to manage and support all of our employees. This includes dealing with individual employee issues, as well as making sure that all members of the Court travel to the various circuits to participate in important judicial functions, including drug court graduations, investitures of new circuit and family court judges, and events designed to educate the public regarding the work of the Court.  

For example, Chief Justice Walker, Justice Workman, Justice Tim Armstead and I spoke at a West Virginia Bar Association Bench and Bar Meeting on March 26 in Clarksburg. The Court also traveled to Berkeley Springs to hold an Argument Docket at the Morgan County Courthouse on April 9 so local high school and college students could see the appellate system in action. 

With everything that has gone on in the past two years with regard to the Supreme Court, many people, myself included, have been concerned about the interaction of the Justices with each other and with the employees of the Court. It is my pleasure to inform you that the relationship between the five justices has been very pleasant in my time here. 

Their positive attitudes, hard work, and willingness to assist me must be recognized. Without their support I would not have been able to make as smooth a transition as I did from my 23 years on the circuit court bench.

I am proud to accept all of these new challenges and opportunities to serve every citizen of the State of West Virginia as a member of our Supreme Court. 

Hutchison is the newest Justice on the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.

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