This article originally provided by The State Journal

May 8, 2008

As Election Nears, Candidates Continue to Raise Money

The expenditures indicate how much effort the four Democratic Supreme Court of Appeals candidates are putting in to winning the voters' nod during the May 13 primary.

Story by Beth Gorczyca Ryan

CHARLESTON -- These days, it's hard to turn on the television or radio without being reminded that two seats on the state Supreme Court of Appeals are going to be up for grabs May 13.

All four Democratic candidates for the state's highest court have advertisements on TV and radio introducing themselves to voters. As a result of those ads, as well as campaign signs and other marketing efforts, the four candidates -- Bob Bastress, Menis Ketchum, Elliott "Spike" Maynard and Margaret Workman -- spent more than $917,000 combined between March 29 and April 27, according to pre-primary election reports recently posted online by the Secretary of State's Office. The filing deadline for the pre-primary reports was May 2.

The expenditures indicate how much effort the four Democratic candidates are putting in to winning the voters' nod during the May 13 primary. The two top vote recipients in the primary will face off against unopposed Republican Beth Walker in November's general election.

The term for a Supreme Court justice is 12 years.

So far, the expenditures in the race outpace any other primary race in the state, including the Democratic primary for governor, the Republican race for attorney general and the Democratic race for secretary of state. According to Secretary of State filings, the seven candidates running in those three elections have spent $653,814.92 combined. Of that amount, Gov. Joe Manchin's re-election campaign spent $352,517 during the pre-primary period, and Secretary of State candidate Joe DeLong's campaign spent $237,595.

Contributions continue to flow in from campaign supporters, as well. According to the pre-primary reports, the four candidates raised more than $1.6 million during the roughly one month pre-primary period.

While the Supreme Court expenditures and contributions are varied, three of the four Democratic candidates for the Court said they are running to make a difference in the state and its court system.

New Type of Court Needed?

Recently, Bastress, a professor at West Virginia University's College of Law, issued a report showing the amount of cases the Supreme Court has accepted during the past several years has gone down. He said, if elected, he would likely vote to accept more cases on appeal.

"Because the Supreme Court is the only appeals court in the state, it has to be the court of last resort and the court of error," he said. "The court needs to review more cases than it is. It doesn't have the luxury to cherry-pick cases."

Bastress said he wouldn't advocate creating an intermediate appellate court. Instead, he said the Supreme Court should be relieved of its current duty of reviewing workers' compensation cases.

"That's anywhere from 800 to 2,000 cases. Those could be funneled through the Kanawha County Circuit Court or another circuit court," he said, noting that type of change would have to come from the state Legislature.

Workman, a former Supreme Court justice who is currently working as a lawyer in Charleston, said creating an intermediate-level appellate court would be very expensive and said she'd rather see the money help family court judges.

Maynard, who is seeking re-election to his second term on the court, said the report implying that the Supreme Court is doing less is flawed.

"The fact is the West Virginia Supreme Court is the busiest court in the nation. Just look at the numbers. We review 3,000 cases a year, while the average supreme court does 300 a year," he said.

He said it would be nice to have an intermediate court of appeal in West Virginia, but its creation would be expensive.

Ketchum, a Huntington attorney, declined to comment. He said every time he tried to talk about issues facing the Court and issues in the election, he was "blistered" by the press. As a result, he said he wasn't participating in any more candidate debates, forums or doing any more interviews.

Role of the Court

While candidates can't talk about how they would rule on specific issues or cases before they come up, they can talk in general terms about issues facing the court.

One criticism of the state's high court in the past is that judges have been too "activist," that is, using their rulings to change state law and create desired policies.

Workman said she is letting her history of rulings on the court speak for themselves.

"No one has to guess about what my record is," she said. "I followed the law."

During her previous tenure on the court, Workman said she created a judiciary task force to review domestic violence fatalities that happened while the case was progressing through the court system. She said she also visited every prison in the state.

"One of the things I also believe in is if you sentence someone to prison, I think you have to visit that prison," she said.

Maynard said court rulings in the past few years have helped the state improve medical malpractice insurance rates for doctors and helped to lower auto insurance by upholding laws passed by the Legislature.

While some have criticized the court for being too activist in the past, Maynard said he is proud of the votes he has cast that he believes have helped to keep people, businesses and jobs in West Virginia.

But is that the job of a justice? Maynard said the job impact of a ruling should be one of many factors that judges take into consideration.

"If it's a criminal case, it is appropriate to look at public safety and it's a proper thing to look at the economic impact on consumers and businesses in some cases," he said.

Bastress said he doesn't think the court has been too activist in the past 10 years or so.

"It's the job of the Legislature to set policy," he said, adding, "There have not been many incidents where the court has invoked the Constitution to strike down legislation. They did it in the Economic Development Grants case, and I think it was appropriate."

Judicial Selection

The current race and the Supreme Court race back in 2004 have raised questions in certain arenas about whether judges and justices should be elected or appointed.

Maynard said he doesn't believe there is any perfect way to select judges. Both elections and appointments can be fraught with political maneuvering. A possible solution to that, he said, is make the races nonpartisan. That step, he said, would reduce the amount of money candidates have to raise and would give the appearance of removing party allegiances.

As a result, Bastress said people's opinions of the court have been impacted by the influence of money in the races.

"The confidence is the lowest I've seen," he said. "In part that's due to the growing part money has in judicial selection."

The candidates said the act of going out and raising money for their campaigns has been uncomfortable and sometimes awkward.

To deal with that issue, Bastress said he supports public financing of judicial elections.

"We have to invest in public financing to ensure any candidate can deliver his or her message," he said.

Workman said one of the reasons why she wanted to serve the court again is to bring it a bit of tranquility.

"The court needs me because as we all know there has been such turmoil and vitriol up there," she said, adding, "I believe I am the person that can calm the turmoil. I know them all. I am peacemaker."

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