Braxton County High School, Valedictorian (1983)
B.A. History and Political Science, University of Charleston, Summa Cum Laude (1987)
Law Degree, WVU College of Law (1990)
Chief Justice, (January 2020 – Present) and Justice (September 2018 – Present), West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals
Speaker of the West Virginia House of Delegates (2015-2018); Member of the House of Delegates (1998-2018)
In-House Attorney, NiSource Corporate Services / Columbia Gas Transmission / TransCanada (2001-2016)
Attorney, Steptoe & Johnson (1998-2001)
Executive Assistant to the Chief-of-Staff, Governor Cecil H. Underwood (1997-1998)
Attorney, Carey, Hill and Scott (1994-1997)
Former Adjunct Professor of Constitutional Law, University of Charleston
Law Clerk to United States District Judge David A. Faber (1991-1994)
Attorney, Spilman, Thomas, Battle & Klostermeyer (1990-1991).
Chief Justice, (January 2020 – Present) and Justice (September 2018 – Present), West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals; Speaker of the West Virginia House of Delegates (2015-2018); House Minority Leader (2007-2015); Minority Chair, House Judiciary Committee (2005-2007); Member, West Virginia House of Delegates (1998-2018).
Community Activities, Awards and Honors
West Virginia Press Association Champion and Advocate of Public Information and Government Transparency Award (2015); West Virginia Chamber of Commerce Champion of Free Enterprise Award (2016); Federation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility – Leadership in Fight Against Drunk Driving and Underage Drinking Award (2015); West Virginia History Advocate Legislative Leadership Award (2015); United States Chamber Institute for Legal Reform State Legislative Achievement Award (2015); Mountain State Trauma and Injury Protection Coalition Legislator of the Year (2011); Merit Badge of Bill Writing Award, Summit Bechtel Reserve Boy Scouts of America (honorary for legislative service); WVU College of Law Baker Cup Moot Court – Best Oralist Award (1989); University of Charleston Outstanding Graduate Award (1987); Knight of the Golden Horseshoe (1979).
Tell voters why you believe you should be a West Virginia Supreme Court justice.
In late 2018, I was appointed and then elected to serve as a justice on your Supreme Court. Immediately, my fellow justices and I rolled up our sleeves and began the long journey to rebuild the public’s trust in our shattered court. We have made tremendous progress. We adopted new written policies and revised existing policies to ensure our court system is held to high ethical standards. These policies govern such matters as how the court system spends your hard-earned tax dollars, including purchasing processes and the use of vehicles, furniture and equipment.
As a fiscal conservative, I have worked during my two decades of public service to ensure that your tax dollars are not wasted. I have helped streamline the judiciary’s budget, returning $10 million of your money back to the Legislature last year to assist our citizens in meeting other needs. This year, under my leadership as Chief Justice, we submitted and gained approval of a court system budget that is $4 million less than the judiciary’s budget was five years ago. I have worked to ensure that both the actions and spending of our court are open and transparent.
Today, we are getting the Supreme Court’s work done in a timely, fair and honest manner. I am committed to upholding our state and federal Constitutions and following the rule of law. It is not my job to make law or legislate from the bench but instead to interpret the law. I will work to ensure that we continue to provide every litigant a fair and impartial decision on the merits of his or her case.
What qualities do you believe are most important in a Supreme Court justice? Explain how you believe you possess those qualities.
First, a Justice must be committed to conducting the work of the Court ethically and honestly. Throughout more than two decades of public service, I have established a reputation for integrity and doing what is right for our citizens -- qualities that are crucial to our continuing task of rebuilding our Court’s standing and reputation. Secondly, a Justice must be committed to fairly and impartially interpreting the law and must uphold his or her oath to follow our federal and state Constitutions. My service in the legislature has provided me valuable insight to how our laws are written and structured. Having served as a legislative leader and having worked in the executive branch of our government, I recognize the unique role each branch of our government serves and believe no branch should attempt to perform the role of another branch. As a Justice, I take seriously my duty to interpret the law and not to legislate from the bench. Finally, a Justice must be willing to work hard and keep the work of the Court moving forward in a timely and efficient manner. I have demonstrated my work ethic throughout my years of service to our state and will continue to work hard each day to provide our citizens well-reasoned decisions based on the law in each of the matters that come before the Court.
Why should voters elect you rather than your opponents?
I believe there are several factors which make me the most qualified candidate to continue serving on the Court. I have nearly 30 years of experience practicing law coupled with more than 20 years of service in our State’s government, having served in the Legislature and on the staff of two of our State’s governors. During my public service, I have a record as a fiscal conservative who has been a watchdog over our people’s hard-earned tax dollars and I will guard against waste and abuse. My Legislative service, including four years as Speaker of the House, not only give me unique insight into the formulation of our laws but also provide me valuable experience in leading, and managing the budget of, two branches of our government. During this service, I have established a reputation for fairness and openness in our government, earning me an award from the West Virginia Press Association for promoting transparency and openness. Finally, I am committed to interpreting the law in a fair and impartial manner consistent with our Federal and State Constitutions rather than legislating from the bench. I will work to ensure that our Court continues to provide litigants with a decision on the merits of their cases, rather than picking and choosing which disputes warrant such decisions. This election gives the voters of our State a clear choice - to move forward and continue the Court’s positive progress that I have helped lead, or to go backwards.
In your opinion, what has been the greatest accomplishment of your legal career?
I think the greatest professional accomplishment, and greatest honor, I have had is to have been one of the few people in our State’s history who have served as a leader in two branches of our state’s government. As Speaker of the House for four years, I played a key role in setting priorities and adopting laws that will affect the lives of my fellow West Virginians for years to come. Now, as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, I have the opportunity to build on the work the Court has begun over the past eighteen months, and to continue to restore our Court’s reputation and standing with our citizens. Each day we do our work with integrity, fairness, openness and transparency brings us one day closer to fully regaining the trust and confidence of our fellow West Virginians.
How would you prepare yourself to handle cases involving unfamiliar areas of the law?
Our Supreme Court addresses a wide variety of issues, including everything from criminal sentencing issues, to civil liability matters, to child abuse and neglect cases. For two decades prior to my service on the Supreme Court, I served as a member of the West Virginia legislature. As a legislator, I developed and voted on legislation relating to an equally wide range of issues. During this service, I consulted with experts related to such legislation and researched proposed legislation and its impact on our State and its people. This experience, coupled with my thirty years as an attorney, gives me useful insight into a number of the areas of law we address each day in my role as a Justice. When we address issues that come before the Supreme Court, it is our job to review and apply the law relating to those issues. We should review our state and federal Constitutions, the laws that have been passed by our Legislature and prior decisions of our Court as they apply to the issues before us. It is our role to apply the law as it is written to the record of the case before us.
Do you believe that justices have a responsibility to improve public understanding of the courts? If so, how should they carry out that obligation?
As a Justice, I believe I have a very important obligation to improve public understanding of our courts. During my eighteen months on our Supreme Court, my fellow justices and I have worked very hard to make our court more accessible and available to our citizens. We have taken the Court out of Charleston and heard oral arguments in various locations throughout our state. These locations include West Virginia University College of Law in Morgantown, Marshall University in Huntington, the Morgan County Courthouse in Berkeley Springs and Southern West Virginia Community College in Logan County. We were also scheduled to hear additional cases at WVU and at Braxton County Middle School this Spring but such visits have been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I have personally visited several schools and civic groups to discuss the work of the Court and have hosted other student groups at the Supreme Court chamber in the State Capitol. In addition, the Supreme Court has produced videos discussing the work of our courts and the history of the Supreme Court and has posted these videos on the Court’s YouTube channel to be viewed by students and the general public. The Court’s oral arguments are livestreamed via computer and public television and we have encouraged teachers to use them as a resource to teach students in classrooms throughout our state. We must continue these outreach efforts and expand opportunities to make our courts more open and accessible to our citizens.
Do you believe that all West Virginians have adequate access to legal help and the legal system? What do you believe is the greatest obstacle to justice, if anything?
Our courts must be accessible to all of our citizens and I believe we should encourage additional efforts to ensure that all people are able to seek redress in our courts. Several agencies and organizations exist to assist those who are unable to afford to hire an attorney and we should encourage more attorneys to provide pro bono assistance to their fellow citizens. In addition, while a student at West Virginia College of Law, I participated in the legal clinic at the law school which allowed third-year law students, under the supervision of a licensed attorney, to provide assistance to low-income clients in a number of actual cases. This program allows those clients to obtain legal services they could not otherwise afford while at the same time providing law students valuable opportunities to work on actual cases prior to their graduation from law school. In recent years, the clinical law program at the law school has expanded the types of matters in which it provides assistance and I believe further expanding this program would be a positive step to provide our citizens greater access to the courts.
Would you be in favor of the Supreme Court adopting standard rules requiring the recusal of judges from cases involving a major campaign contributor or supporter? Why or why not?
Under the current Code of Judicial Conduct, judges and justices already have an obligation to recuse themselves, (or in some cases, inform the parties and allow them to make a motion for recusal), in cases in which they have an interest or conflict. A judge or judicial candidate is prohibited from soliciting or receiving contributions directly and such fundraising must be done by a committee on his or her behalf. If the proper process is followed, judges should not be aware of who has contributed to their campaign and, therefore, should not be influenced by such contributions. If the judge cannot decide a case impartially because of a contribution or other factor, he or she has an obligation under the Code of Judicial conduct to step aside from the case. When there is a question relating to whether a justice should recuse himself or herself from a case, such justice may also seek advice or a formal opinion from the Judicial Investigation Commission. If a judge acts improperly and does not abide by the Code of Judicial Conduct, the Code provides for discipline of such judges or justices and those processes should be followed. It is important that our citizens elect justices who are committed to following the ethical rules regarding conflicts of interest and who have a record of abiding by their obligations to hear cases fairly and impartially.
As a Supreme Court justice, what recommendations would you make to improve the administration and management of West Virginia’s judicial system?
First, we must continue the work of restoring the confidence of our citizens in their court. While we have made great progress, there is still work to do to regain our people’s trust. In addition, I believe we must also continue to address the devastating impact the opioid crisis has had on our children and families. Children are tragically suffering the effects of their parents’ substance abuse in homes throughout West Virginia. In many cases, children must be permanently removed from their homes and placed in new homes where they will be loved and protected. There are also cases where, with the right treatment and assistance, families can be restored and reunited. We are working hard to make sure that, in each case, the children are protected. The Court has worked with the Legislature to create pilot Family Treatment Courts in five locations throughout our State. These courts provide a promising community-based approach to help restore families and ensure that our children can be raised in safe, healthy and loving homes. Having visited a Family Treatment Court in session and having met with a treatment team that supports Family Treatment Court participants, I am encouraged by the work these courts are doing and am hopeful that we can expand these courts to other areas of our State. We must also work cooperatively, with the Legislature and our state Department of Health and Human Resources, to provide our courts the tools they need, in terms of treatment options and educational resources to assist our State’s children and families. Finally, we must continue the work of implementing the electronic filing system, or E-filing system, throughout our state. By the end of 2020, it is the Court’s goal to have the E-filing system up and running in more than half of our States’ counties and to have the system fully operational in all counties by the end of 2022. This system will make it easier and more cost effective to file court documents and will provide parties, attorneys and the public with easier access to court records.
In your opinion, what is the best movie, television program or book ever set inside a courtroom and why?
While the book and accompanying television series were not entirely set in a courtroom, David McCollough’s biography John Adams and the television series based on that book represent one of my favorite depictions of a courtroom scene. John Adams had the challenging task of representing the British in the trial related to the Boston Massacre in 1770. Adams, who six years later would help lead the fight for independence from Great Britain and would serve as our second president, had the courage to represent the British troops because he believed everyone has a right to a fair and impartial trial under the law.