CHARLESTON — Beckley attorney and former legislator Bill Wooton wants to continue a lifetime of public service as a justice on the West Virginia Supreme Court.
"It’s been a lifelong aspiration of mine to serve on the court," Wooton said in an interview with The West Virginia Record. "Public service has been a major part of my whole life and serving on this court would give me the opportunity to continue my public service."
Wooton, who has worked in the Attorney General's Office and the Prosecuting Attorney's Office and as a state legislator, believes his qualifications better equip him than other candidates.
"With regard to public service, I’ve served in the military, I’ve served in the legislature, I’ve served in the Attorney General’s Office and the Prosecuting Attorney's Office," Wooton said. "With regard to experience, I’ve been engaged in the private practice of law for a long time and in that practice of law, I have probably been in engaged in just about every type of legal activity or case that one can become involved in in the state of West Virginia."
Wooton said he believes his breadth of experience is what distinguishes him more than anything else from the other candidates in the race.
"I think the requirements of the job include scholarship and I did very well in law school," Wooton said. "I was top of my class and editor-in-chief of the law review. I have the academic credentials that I think the position requires."
Wooton said his public service background and appreciation of government activities will be essential in the position on the Supreme Court.
"I have the experience in the practice of law and the types of activities that might come before the court," Wooton said. "Just about anything that will come before the court, I’ve probably been involved in it, so that is why I think I am the most qualified."
Wooton said when he clerked for John A. Field Jr. when he was first got out of law school and that shaped how he wanted his future to go.
"You get influenced by your early experiences," Wooton said. "When I was first out of law school, I had the opportunity to clerk for an outstanding jurist."
Field was a U.S. district court judge and while Wooton was working for him he became a U.S. circuit court judge.
"Working with Judge Field, he became one of my heroes and you always want to emulate your heroes," Wooton said. "I’ve always felt that, in addition to trying to pattern myself after a hero like Judge Field, I’ve always felt like I’ve made a contribution that has made my community better by engaging in public service."
Wooton said he thought he was of great assistance to his community when he worked in the Prosecutor's Office and he felt he did some real good for the state when he was in the Attorney General’s Office.
"I think I also did some real good in the state through my service as a legislator," Wooton said. "As a private attorney, I think I’ve helped a lot of people throughout the years. I feel I’ve made a contribution to the betterment of society."
Wooton said he thinks the Supreme Court would be the perfect opportunity to continue that service.
Wooton graduated from Marshall University in 1966 with a bachelor's in business administration and from West Virginia University College of Law in 1971. He is a retired colonel in the West Virginia Army National Guard.
All three of the Supreme Court races are non-partisan. The Division 1 and 2 races are for regular 12-year terms on the Supreme Court. The Division 3 race is to fill the seat formerly held by Allen Loughry. Gov. Jim Justice appointed John Hutchison to fill that seat in December 2018. The term for the Division 3 seat will end in 2024
For the Division 1 seat, incumbent Justice Tim Armstead is being challenged by former Justice Richard Neely and northern panhandle Circuit Judge David Hummel.
Running for the Division 2 seat currently occupied by Justice Margaret Workman are Wooton, Putnam County Assistant Prosecutor Kris Raynes, Kanawha Circuit Judge Joanna Tabit and Kanawha Family Court Judge Jim Douglas. Workman is not seeking re-election.
Hutchison is seeking re-election for the Division 3 seat. He was appointed after former Justice Allen Loughry resigned. The term is to finish the rest of Loughry's term and will end in 2024. Schwartz and Fifth Circuit Judge Lora Dyer also are running for the seat.
In 2018, Tabit finished third in a special election for two seats on the Supreme Court left by the retirements of Robin Jean Davis and Menis Ketchum. Armstead and Justice Evan Jenkins, both of whom had been appointed by Justice to temporarily fill those seats, won those elections. Douglas, Wooton and Schwartz all ran in the 2018 election as well.
The non-partisan court election is part of West Virginia's primary election, which is May 12.