Huntington Herald-Dispatch - "SupCo field marked by experience"
They've challenged a state law that billed public school students for textbooks, intervened between parents and their abused children and stood up for a laborer stiffed by his boss.
And with their combined legal experience totaling more than 142 years, the four Democrats running for West Virginia's Supreme Court offer an array of backgrounds to voters in Tuesday's primary.
The race includes an incumbent, Chief Justice Elliott "Spike" Maynard, and a former justice, Margaret Workman. Both used to be circuit court judges, while Maynard was also Mingo County's elected prosecutor.
Huntington lawyer Menis Ketchum is a 41-year veteran of the profession while Bob Bastress marks his third decade teaching law at West Virginia University this year.
Two of the court's five seats are on the 2008 ballot, each offering a 12-year term. A Republican, Charleston lawyer Beth Walker, is also in the running.
Ketchum, 65, has been a lawyer the longest. Admitted to the State Bar in 1967, Ketchum cites the 35 cases he argued before the court he hopes to join as the second-most of any lawyer in West Virginia. Public Broadcasting has since noted several other lawyers with more Supreme Court appearances than Ketchum, though his number remains formidable.
Of the scores of cases he's handled in circuit and federal court, Ketchum said his most memorable resulted in a $458.10 jury verdict.
Ketchum represented a man who alleged a flower shop owner had stiffed him over some odd jobs he had done. After jurors awarded his client damages, the man "began to cry and thanked me profusely," Ketchum recalled.
"As I became more experienced, I often reflected upon that case and realized its importance to me both personally and professionally," Ketchum said. "No matter who my client is, or how big or small the case, I have a duty to vigorously fight for my client.
Workman, who turns 61 this month, became the first female justice and the first woman elected to statewide office in West Virginia in 1988. She had been a Kanawha Circuit judge for seven years before that win. Before becoming judge and since stepping down from the Supreme Court in 1999, she has been in private practice.
Workman has touted the hundreds of opinions she wrote while a justice. At least 160 of those emerged after 1991, the earliest time for Supreme Court opinions posted online. These rulings set legal precedent, and represent about 8 percent of the decisions issued by the court between 1992 and 1999. In any given year, between half and two-thirds of the court's rulings don't set precedent and so bear no justice's name. Workman also served alongside a succession of 11 other justices during her tenure.
Workman counts her 1991 decision in a child abuse case as her most prominent to date. Involving a minor identified only as Carlita B., the unanimous ruling was heralded at the time for ordering "the state courts to mobilize on a war on child abuse."
"Carlita B. established the legal principle that child abuse and neglect cases were the highest priority for the courts' attention, and directed the development of systems to monitor the status and progress of child neglect and abuse cases in the courts," Workman said.
She also noted that then-Justice Thomas Miller wrote a concurring opinion that called hers "a comprehensive and superb opinion in regard to the handling of termination of parental rights cases." He added that "Hopefully, it will become the bible not only for our circuit courts, but for all who are involved in this sensitive and difficult field."
A child and neglect case also stands out in Maynard's mind from his career of nearly 35 years. It came during his 15 years as a Mingo County Circuit judge, and featured evidence that a man had repeatedly sexually abused his three stepchildren and beat them with belts and sticks.
"The mother knew about some of the abuse and did nothing to protect her children," Maynard recounted. "I terminated the parental rights of both mother and stepfather. I will never forget those children and the heartbreaking testimony that each one gave in court about their years of abuse. By now, these children are adults and I often wonder how they are doing."
Maynard has written 169 decisions that set new case law since his election as justice in 1996. Like Workman, these represent about 8 percent of the opinions published during his term. Mingo County voters selected him as their prosecuting attorney in 1976. He had just been re-elected to that post when then-Gov. Jay Rockefeller tapped him for the county's circuit bench in 1981.
Bastress has taught law for most of his career, joining WVU's faculty in 1978 and becoming a full professor at its law school in 1986. He has also maintained a public interest law practice, and one of the first such cases he ever argued in court has stuck with him.
The 1970s lawsuit challenged Kentucky public school policy that required students to buy their own textbooks. When a federal judge ruled against him, Bastress appealed, but without success.
"(But) the attention given to the litigation shamed the Kentucky Legislature into providing free textbooks for all students," Bastress said. "So, we lost the battle but won the war."