This article originally provided by The Charleston Gazette

September 24, 2005

Chief Justice says he favors continued partisan election

By Tom Searls
Staff writer

State Supreme Court Chief Justice Joseph Albright told members of the West Virginia Bar Association Friday he favors the continued partisan election of members of the judiciary in the state.

“I continue to favor election because I believe it is in keeping with our long tradition in this state and exposes judges to more of the people they serve,” Albright said in prepared remarks. “If my fellow citizens are qualified to select a president or governor by election, they are qualified to elect judges.”

A State Bar committee recommended the five members of the state Supreme Court be appointed — based on a merit approach — this week. The issue is set to be discussed at the organization’s meeting next month.

Albright said appointment or election can work, but said most people advocating judicial reform really want changes in court determinations.

“In short, I submit to you the underlying motivation of those seeking modifications in the judicial selection process is to get different results in the cases the courts hear, results that accord with particular social and economic viewpoints of the reformers,” the chief justice said.

Changing the selection process will not change that, he said.

And, the chief justice, a Democrat who has also served as speaker of the House of Delegates, said he likes having partisan elections for judges. He ticked off a number of reasons, saying simply calling an election non-partisan doesn’t take politics out of the race, being non-partisan does not reduce campaign spending and, he pointed out, other elected officials are also required to remove political considerations while performing their official duties.

“In short, the judiciary does not hold a monopoly on the duty of fairness in the performance of public duties,” he said.

Albright’s comments came Friday during the chief justice’s annual State of the Judiciary speech at Stonewall Jackson Resort and State Park at Walkersville.

He warned those in attendance about the cost of incarcerating felons. Since 1996, there has been almost a 167 percent increase in the number of incarcerated felons in the state. State officials have predicted another 40 percent jump in the next 10 years. It costs taxpayers more than $20,000 annually to house a felon in prison.

“The executive, the Legislature and the courts should address these two problems thoroughly and dispassionately,” Albright said. “It will take political courage for legislators to turn away from the recent trend of longer sentences and more incarceration.”

Albright also touched on other issues during the speech, including:

  • The number of cases coming to the state’s highest court continued to fall. In 2004, the court had 2,499 cases, 416 less than 2003. “This decrease was spread across most categories of cases, but a decline in workers’ compensation filings accounts for nearly three-fourths of the decrease,” he noted.
  • The number of people representing themselves in court continues to rise, with 16,183 in 2004. A large majority of those were in divorce or domestic relations cases.
  • Case loads in circuit courts fell by more than 900 last year to 46,890.
  • Family court filings increased by more than 1,100 to 36,251. Those include more than 12,000 divorces, 14,000 domestic violence hearings and more than 9,000 other domestic relations cases. “Those numbers are staggering, indicating that troubled families in the state depend heavily on a competent, hardworking family court system,” the chief justice said.
  • Six counties now have funding in place for an Adult Drug Court Diversion Program.

    To contact staff writer Tom Searls, use e-mail or call 348-5192.

  • Voter-Owned Elections

    Citizens for Clean Elections P.O. Box 6753 Huntington, WV 25773-6753 304-522-0246