William R. "Bill" Wooton
Marshall University, B.B.A, 1966
West Virginia University College of Law, J.D., 1971
Law Clerk, Judge John A. Field, Jr., U.S. Court of Appeals, July '71 - July '72
WV Assistant Attorney General, July '72 - July - 74
Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, Raleigh County, July '74 - Jan. '77
Private practice of law, Wooton, Wooton & Fragile, 1977-1994
Private practice of law, The Wooton Law Firm, 1994-2014
Private practice of law, Wooton & Wooton, 2014 - present.
WV House of Delegates, 14 years including service as Majority Leader
WV State Senate, 12 years including 10 years as Judiciary Chair.
Community Activities, Awards and Honors
Fellow, West Virginia Bar Foundation
Permanent member, Fourth Circuit Judicial Conference.
Tell voters why you believe you should be a West Virginia Supreme Court justice.
My professional experience has ideally prepared me for the position of Justice of the Supreme Court of Appeals. Public service has always played a major role in my life. I have served the public in the legislature, in the military, in the prosecuting attorney’s office, on local boards and committees, coached youth sports, and in a myriad of other ways. Service to my community has always been an important part of who I am. The Supreme Court requires scholarship; I was Editor-in-Chief of the WV Law Review, Order of the Coif, and graduated at the top of my law school class. I believe the duties of Supreme Court Justice can best be performed by a lawyer who has experience in every phase of the practice of law, including counseling individuals confronted with legal problems, advising businesses, and representing litigants in courts at every level in this state. I am a small-town lawyer, practicing in Beckley. I have practiced law a long time, and have been involved in virtually every kind of legal proceeding one can imagine. I routinely represent people who find themselves involved in situations where they need a lawyer. My work gives me the opportunity to help people deal with complex situations that can have tremendous consequences to their lives. I get a great deal of personal satisfaction out of being able to help my clients deal with such situations. I believe a lawyer’s work experience colors his or her outlook on life, and on legal issues. I did not spend most of my working practicing in a large corporate law firm; instead my practice has consisted almost exclusively of representing working men and women confronted with legal problems. As a Supreme Court Justice I will never embarrass the state; I am proud that my integrity was never even questioned during a lengthy legislative career. I will disqualify myself from any proceeding in which my impartiality might reasonably be questioned. My goal is to provide fair and equitable adjudication of all issues that come before the court, free from any suggestion of bias or favoritism. In summary, I am a candidate for Justice of the Supreme Court of Appeals because I sincerely believe that - because of my experience and ability - I am the best-qualified person for the position.
What qualities do you believe are most important in a Supreme Court justice? Explain how you believe you possess those qualities.
Qualities that are most important for a Supreme Court Justice include Intelligence, Open-mindedness, Patience, Fairness, and Kindness.
Intelligence. A Supreme Court Justice must have the intellect to understand the issues and arguments presented in cases before the Court.
Open-Mindedness. A Supreme Court Justice must not be dogmatic. A rigid and inflexible pattern of thinking would prevent a Justice from grasping new arguments, or novel applications of various legal principles.
Patience. Some ideas and arguments are difficult to express in a truncated presentation, and some presenters become intimidated if they sense impatience from the forum; patience on the part of a justice will help insure that all issues are fully and fairly heard.
Fairness is the foundation of our system of laws, and it is important that a member of the Court innately possess a basic sense of fairness.
Kindness. As a long-time practicing attorney, on reflection I find I have always been most impressed with acts of kindness and civility from the Court; it is noteworthy that I have been equally impressed, whether that kindness was directed at me or to my adversary.
How I believe I possess these qualities:
Kindness. I was raised in West Virginia, where virtually everyone possesses an innate quality of kindness.
Fairness. West Virginians likewise possess an innate sense of fairness; those of us privileged to attend law school have invariably had our sense of fairness enhanced by a legal education.
Patience. This quality – at least on my part – is a learned skill. If I haven’t totally mastered patience I have approximated a reasonable facsimile, primarily through presiding over interminable legislative hearings as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Open-Mindedness. I don’t think I am burdened with such an ego that I think I know everything. That is, I don’t believe my thinking is rigid, inflexible, and resistant to new ideas. I acknowledge that – with respect to this quality - perhaps I am a biased evaluator, but I believe my conduct as an attorney and as a legislator has always demonstrated that I am open-minded.
Intelligence. While serving in the state legislature the Charleston Gazette conducted a poll of lobbyists and I was voted most intelligent Senator. (Wait – have I damned myself with faint praise?) Perhaps more persuasive evidence that I possess the intellect necessary to be a Supreme Court Justice is that I am a lawyer; that is, I graduated from law school. And while attending law school I was elected to membership in the Order of the Coif, was Editor-in-Chief of the West Virginia Law Review, and graduated at the top of my class.
Why should voters elect you rather than your opponents?
I am the only veteran in the district 2 race; I am the only district 2 candidate who does not reside and work in the Charleston metropolitan area; and I am the only district 2 candidate employed in the private rather than the public sector. I believe the duties of Supreme Court Justice can best be performed by a lawyer who has experience in every phase of the practice of law, including counseling individuals confronted with legal problems, advising businesses, and representing litigants in courts at every level in this state. My experience is more extensive and broad-based than any other candidate seeking this office. I have been engaged in the private practice of law for more than 40 years, and have been involved in virtually every type of legal proceeding possible in the State of West Virginia. In my practice I routinely represent people – not big corporations or insurance companies. I am general counsel for the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission, and on a regular basis represent a few small businesses. My work gives me the opportunity to help people deal with complex situations that can have tremendous consequences to their lives. I believe the breadth and nature of my experience is the reason voters should elect me rather than my opponents.
In your opinion, what has been the greatest accomplishment of your legal career?
As a body of work, probably my most significant accomplishment has been my work as general counsel for the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission. At one time the rules regulating West Virginia high school athletics were virtually without precedent – a discombobulated hodgepodge, varying radically from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. As a result of a number of excellent opinions from cases of mine before the Supreme Court of Appeals, there is now a body of case law that brings uniformity and predictability to the regulation of high school athletics throughout the state.
If the response to this question should focus on individual cases rather than a body of work, I am most proud of my work in the prosecuting attorney’s office, including obtaining a first degree murder conviction after almost 20 years without such a conviction in my county, and the conviction of West Virginia’s most notorious criminal – Ronald Turney Williams – for the murder of a Beckley city police officer. And I am proud of representing a debtor in a bankruptcy case adversary proceeding against the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) which has significant consequences for persons indebted to a federal agency. We prevailed at the Bankruptcy Court and US District Court levels; the case is currently on appeal to the Fourth Circuit.
If my legal career includes legislature service, then my accomplishments in that arena are probably at least as notable as any of my accomplishments in the actual practice of law. I am especially proud that I was the lead sponsor of legislation prohibiting the importation of out-of-state garbage to West Virginia. I’m proud that I was the principal author of the West Virginia Surface Mining and Reclamation Act that maintained state primacy in the regulation of our mining industry; that I was the author of legislation that created our whitewater rafting industry; that I was a principal author of the constitutional amendment creating the Family Court System, and of the subsequent legislation establishing our Family Court System; that I was a principal author of legislation creating the West Virginia Board of Investments (created in response to the investment debacle in the then State Treasurer’s office); that I was a principal author of legislation authorizing early voting in West Virginia; that I was primarily responsible for numerous legislative acts protecting battered and abused women and children; that I was the principal author of West Virginia’s pay equity legislation; that I was the principal author of the Automobile Dealers Franchise Law; that I was primarily responsible for the defeat of the “dirty secrets bill” (environment self-audits); and that I was primarily responsible for the defeat of legislation deregulating electric utilities in West Virginia.
How would you prepare yourself to handle cases involving unfamiliar areas of the law?
As a Justice dealing with an unfamiliar area of the law I would attempt to limit my legal research to the authorities cited by the attorneys representing the parties to the case, and to a review of other sources suggested by the cited authorities. However, if a study of those authorities leaves me feeling ill-equipped to consider such a case, then I would undertake such additional research as is necessary to competently consider a case involving an unfamiliar area of the law.
Do you believe that justices have a responsibility to improve public understanding of the courts? If so, how should they carry out that obligation?
There is some tension between the maxim: “A Court speaks through its Orders” and a “responsibility to improve public understanding of the courts”. I believe the responsibility to improve public understanding of the courts is best met by the bar, rather than by judges and justices. Nonetheless, justices do share some responsibility to improve public understanding of the courts. Mindful of the constraints imposed by the above-quoted maxim, the Supreme Court currently meets the responsibility to improve public understanding of the courts primarily through its Public Information Officer and Deputy Public Information Officer. In addition, the justices assist in meeting this obligation through columns by the Chief Justice on the Supreme Court web site and in the State Bar Journal (The West Virginia Lawyer), and by occasional presentations by justices before various civic organizations and other forums. In my opinion the current efforts of justices to meet this responsibility are adequate; I am concerned that to do much more might violate the time-honored tradition limiting how and when a court speaks.
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?
All West Virginians do not have access to legal help and the legal system. Just as in this - the most affluent nation in the world - some of our citizens live in a “food desert” because there are no grocery stores within a reasonable distance, likewise there are West Virginians in parts of our state that live in a “legal desert”. As the population of our state continues to stagnate, and to decline in many rural counties, residents of some of those counties lack access to legal help. While at this time I don’t know the solution, recognizing the problem is the first step to finding a solution. And lack of access to legal help is not confined to rural counties. In parts of our state that could not be described as a legal desert the problem can be mitigated by better funding for appointed counsel, by more funding for legal service programs, and by an increased emphasis on the pro bono obligations of members of the bar. As a member of the Access to Justice Commission (created by the Supreme Court and operating out of the law school), I am involved in the macro approach to solving problems that pro bono work and legal services programs address on a case-by-case basis.
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?
I would consider such a rule superfluous; we already have such a rule. More particularly, Rule 2.4 of the West Virginia Code of Judicial Conduct, entitled “External Influences on Judicial Conduct” provides in section (B): “A judge shall not permit family, social, political, financial, or other interests or relationships to influence the judge's judicial conduct or judgment.”
In addition, the Code of Judicial Conduct further provides in Rule 1.2. Confidence in the Judiciary, as follows: “A judge shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence,* integrity,* and impartiality* of the judiciary, and shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.”
If a social, political, financial or other interest or relationship between a Justice and a major campaign contributor or supporter would influence the Justice, then he or she is required by Rule 2.4 (B) of the Code of Judicial Conduct to recuse himself or herself from the case.
And if failure to recuse in a case involving a party with whom a Justice has a social, political, financial or other interest or relationship would give rise to the appearance of impropriety, then the Justice is required by Rule 1.2 to recuse.
Guided by the Code of Judicial Conduct and other authorities, each Justice makes his or her own decision regarding recusal, and – just as in the United States Supreme Court - that decision is not reviewable. If the other justices were permitted to review an individual Justice’s decision not to recuse, this could have the effect of giving the other justices the power to determine who would be able hear the affected case.
As a Supreme Court justice, what recommendations would you make to improve the administration and management of West Virginia’s judicial system?
Recent events have damaged public confidence in our Supreme Court. No component of the judicial system should ever again be suspected of wasting taxpayer dollars. As a Justice I will insist that the Court adopt complete transparency with regard to all spending, including detailed accounting of all expenditures related to travel, office furnishings and equipment. Absolute transparency with regard to all judicial branch spending is essential to restoring the public’s faith in our highest Court. And, just as Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion, a judicial officer must avoid even the appearance of impropriety. The Caesar’s wife principle is embodied in Rule 1.2 of the West Virginia Code of Judicial Conduct, which provides: “A Judge shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary, and shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.” Rigid adherence to this portion of the Code of Judicial Conduct is likewise essential to restoring the public’s faith in our highest court. I would recommend that other candidates and justices join with me in pledging that nothing I do will ever embarrass or bring into disrepute the Supreme Court or the State of West Virginia. While restoring public confidence in our Supreme Court is my first recommendation, continued emphasis on the implementation of technology in the judicial system is necessary to stay abreast of the twenty-first century. While there have been some mistakes and false starts in the implementation of electronic filing and other technological changes, I believe the court is now on track to bring our court system into conformity with the technological opportunities and expectations of the first quarter of the twenty-first century, and I would recommend that we continue that course.
In your opinion, what is the best movie, television program or book ever set inside a courtroom and why?
I love Scott Turow and John Grisham novels, and A Civil Action and The Verdict are terrific movies depicting courtroom action, but in my opinion the best movie set inside a courtroom is Witness for the Prosecution. The plot is marvelous and the actors are superb – the movie is good entertainment – but the scenes depicting the examination and cross-examination of the Marlene Dietrich character are in my opinion the best drama set inside a courtroom.