WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. —The candidates for two seats up this year on West Virginia’s Supreme Court appeared split along party lines Wednesday regarding the need for a mid-level appeals court.
The two Republicans, Jefferson County Circuit Judge John Yoder and Supreme Court law clerk Allen Loughry, told a West Virginia Chamber of Commerce audience that they generally favor an intermediate appeals court.
Speaking at a candidates forum during the chamber’s annual summit, Yoder said groups that rank West Virginia poorly for its judicial system tend to cite the absence of such a court. While supportive of the concept, Loughry also praised the recent rewriting of rules for filing and handling appeals.
“It’s a complicated question,” Loughry told the audience at The Greenbrier resort.
Justice Robin Davis, a Democrat and the sole incumbent running, championed those revised rules while maintaining her steadfast opposition to adding another layer to the state’s court structure. She said justices have addressed the core complaint behind calls for a new court: Appeals were not getting full reviews that resulted in detailed written rulings.
“I have heard not one complaint from business or the chamber about the fact that their cases are not being heard or they’re not being heard in a fair fashion,” Davis said.
Fellow Democrat Tish Chafin, a recent State Bar president, called the revisions a positive change. Chafin said that as their two-year anniversary approaches, the effects of the rewritten rules should be studied before any further changes to the court system are considered.
Chafin also touted her proposal to revamp the policy meant to prevent justices from hearing cases in which they have conflicts of interest. She cited the 2009 U.S. Supreme Court decision that removed West Virginia Justice Brent Benjamin from hearing cases involving Massey Energy, because its then-chief executive had spent more than $3 million to help Chafin get elected.
Davis questioned the need for that proposed policy. She said the overwhelming majority of cases involving potential conflicts of interest at the court in the last 19 months resulted in the justices involved recusing themselves voluntarily without the need for a written request. Loughry expressed support for an ongoing project by Chief Justice Menis Ketchum to revisit the recusal policy.
Yoder said the issue has merit, but that he’s not aware of any recent problems with the way the court has handled the topic.
“I think it is something we need to discuss,” Yoder said.