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Journal - "Court Candidates Face Off in Forum"

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Location: Sheperdstown, WV

Journal - "Court Candidates Face Off in Forum"

The four Democratic candidates running for the party's nominations for two open seats on West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals in this year's May 13 primary discussed their positions during a forum Wednesday night at Shepherd University.

Incumbent Justice Elliot "Spike" Maynard, former West Virginia Supreme Court Chief Justice Margaret Workman, West Virginia University law professor Bob Bastress and veteran attorney Menis Ketchum tackled several issues including the recent turmoil facing the court. The debate was sponsored by The Journal, WEPM and the Eastern Panhandle Alumnae Chapter of the Delta Theta Sigma Sorority.

First, the candidates outlined their experience and their purpose for seeking a seat on the court.

Bastress said he spent the last 30 years teaching law at WVU and his inspiration to run is based on the public career, commitment and compassion of Bobby Kennedy.

"I care about access to justice in West Virginia," he said. "I care at about the Supreme Court of West Virginia ... It ought to be at the pinnacle of respect but it's not. I think it's at the the lowest ebb of public confidence that I've ever seen ...We need to do better."

Ketchum said the state needs a court that's not on the extreme left or to the extreme right, rather a court centered in the middle ground.

"We need a court that does not create laws, that evenhandedly applies the law amongst all the people," he said. "Here's how I can sum up my philosophy. Five people sitting in robes up on the Supreme Court bench should not substitute their judgment for that of the Legislature."

Maynard said he's a a lifelong West Virginian who grew up in the coal fields in southern West Virginia. He highlighted his military career and legal career.

"I'm a veteran. I'm the only veteran on the court and I guess the only veteran running," he said. "I have been a lawyer. I have been a prosecuting attorney ... I was a circuit judge, or trial judge, for 16 years in a single judge circuit and I've been on the Supreme Court for about 11 1/2 years. All together I've been a judge for about 28 years ... so that's my public service."

Workman said she first served as a Kanawha County Circuit Judge for seven years, becoming the youngest judge in West Virginia.

"I inherited the largest backlog of cases in the whole state. During my seven years I held more jury trials than any judge in West Virginia and I reduced that docket to the lowest in the circuit," she said.

In 1988, she was was elected to the Supreme Court — the first woman ever in West Virginia to be elected to any statewide office — and served 11 1/2 years.

"My record on the court is one of fairness, integrity and energy," she said. "My record of 18 years of judicial service is one of unblemished integrity ... I think that there's a lot of turmoil in the court. There was a lot of turmoil when I went on in 1989 and I helped calm that turmoil and I believe I can do that again."

The candidates were given the opportunity to address the current problems facing the court in its day to day operations, with Ketchum asking what those problems were.

"I think the court is doing a good job on day-to-day operations. I'm sorry I'm not just going to sit here and criticize an incumbent justice because I'm running against him," Ketchum said.

Maynard said that there has recently been a lot of talk about turmoil in the court but said that there's always been turmoil on the court.

"There seems to be some outrage now about turmoil in the court, but you know I don't know where the outrage was when we had a justice who every day sat on cases his brother was in and wouldn't recuse himself," he said. "The truth is the court is really headed in the right direction."

He said the trouble is an issue created by people who want to change the direction of the court.

"They're people who love frivolous lawsuits. They're people who love lawsuit abuse. They're people who love a compensation system that is full of fraud where everybody gets a check," he said.

Workman said the problem she would like to address on the court is one that is closest to her heart, and that was to improve the family court system.

"You know the way most West Virginians interface with the court system, unfortunately, is through the family court system," she said. "I think we need to keep working on that system. We've come a long way. When I served as the chief justice of the Supreme Court I spearheaded the development of the family court system. It's got a long way to go and I want to see it continue to improve."

Bastress said he wanted to form a justice commission to deliver legal services to the poor and middle class. He said such a commission has been successful in all the states that have adopted it.

He also said he would like results from a committee study conducted a few years ago on the large amount of minorities who go through West Virginia's criminal justice system.

"(It's) statistically significant, way beyond what it has been like in other states. I think the court could do some things about that. You can't solve the problem, but I think you could send a message and implement some solutions. I would like to see those kinds of missions undertaken by the court," Bastress said.

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