B.A. History and Political Science, Davis & Elkins College, 1972
J.D. West Virginia University College of Law, 1980
Assistant Basketball Coach Davis and Elkins College (1972-1974)
Dorm Director and Assistant Basketball Coach at Concord University (1975-1977)
Gorman, Sheatsley & Hutchison (1981-1991)
Managing Attorney, Nationwide Insurance Trial Division Office (1991-1995)
Appointed to the Tenth Judicial Circuit in 1995.
Appointed to the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals 2018
Judge, Tenth Judicial Circuit 1996, 2000, 2008 and 2016
Community Activities, Awards and Honors
A former registered official with the Secondary School Activities Commission in soccer and baseball.
A former member of the board of directors of the Beckley-Raleigh County YMCA
Tell voters why you believe you should be a West Virginia Supreme Court justice.
I believe that I should be a Justice on the Supreme Court of the appeals because I have the experience the integrity and the work ethic to continue to do the critically important work of the court. I have 15 years of private practice experience in a variety of areas of law and I have 23 ½ years of experience as a Circuit Court judge in one of the busiest circuits in the state of West Virginia. In my 23 ½ years on the circuit bench I closed approximately 22,500 cases of various types.
In addition to my general experience as a Circuit Court judge, I also undertook to start the first Truancy Ct. in Raleigh County which resulted in a significant increase in the attendance rates in Raleigh County schools. I also was a member of the Mass Litigation Panel which is a special group of judges designated to handle complex multi-injury cases either property cases or personal injury cases. Over the years I have been lead trial judge on no less than seven of those cases and I have been a mediating judge on two major cases. The Mass Litigation Panel is one of the most successful specialty court innovations created by the Supreme Court of Appeals.
My experience, dedication to the court system and my reputation for hard work and honesty make me the best choice.
What qualities do you believe are most important in a Supreme Court justice? Explain how you believe you possess those qualities.
A Supreme Court Justice must have integrity and a reputation for hard work and an unbiased application of the law. In my now 25 years of experience as a circuit judge and Supreme Court Justice, it is clear that I have the reputation for integrity, honesty and hard work. It is clear that I believe in the application of the law and not the creation of law. I recognize clearly the separation of powers between the three branches of government. My history has been to apply the law and when necessary interpret the law in a manner that tries to incorporate the intent of the legislature. I have not been an activist judge or Justice and I recognize that the Supreme Court does not sit as a super-legislature. It is the duty of the legislature to sit, consider the facts and establish policy for the state of West Virginia. It is the duty of a judge or Justice to interpret that law and apply the policy established by the legislature as approved by the executive branch despite the personal beliefs that may be held by a judge or Justice.
Why should voters elect you rather than your opponents?
Voters should select me in Division III because I am the best qualified of all the candidates. I have vast experience in general practice including business and trial work, I have been required as a small business owner to meet the challenges of operating a business including making payroll, managing employees and developing a business plan designed for success. I further have the greatest amount of experience in the judicial area because of my 25 years of judicial experience. I have been required to handle exceedingly complex litigation through my work on the Mass Litigation Panel and I have had to deal with significantly complex criminal cases including having to try at least 20 murder cases in my career. My ability to manage my other docket requirements and handle this heavy load is a testament to my ability to work hard and manage all requirements of the office including the 1200 pending cases remaining on my docket.
My ability to be involved in new programming including truancy court and the mass litigation panel while at the same time managing my everyday workload shows that I am not afraid to work and that I have the ability to multitask. My involvement in all of these matters shows my dedication to the judicial branch and my recognition of its importance to the people of the state of West Virginia.
I have the vision, integrity, and reputation for hard work and preparation that are necessary to appropriately return the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia to a position where it is one of the most trusted bodies in the state of West Virginia.
In your opinion, what has been the greatest accomplishment of your legal career?
Being able to serve as a full-time member on the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. Nearly 40 years ago I began my legal career and I have steadily climbed the ladder of responsibility in my chosen field. I have developed a reputation for fairness, integrity and hard work. Achieving the status of Justice of the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia is a culmination of those years of hard work. There are many individual cases in which I have been involved over the years whose results were satisfying and quite gratifying because of the impact they had on the individual lives of my clients. There are many of those cases of which I am very proud. From a personal development standpoint, however, attaining the position of Justice is my personal greatest professional accomplishment. My greatest personal accomplishment, of course, is my family and the fact that I have been married for 45 years and have two fantastic children and two fantastic grandchildren.
How would you prepare yourself to handle cases involving unfamiliar areas of the law?
Every judicial officer during their career will be faced with cases that involve unfamiliar areas of law as well as unfamiliar topics. Every judicial officer has in their career been required to engage in extensive research to familiarize themselves with a particular aspect of the law or a particular topic. I personally have on many occasions been required to engage in this type of extensive research. I also look to other jurisdictions with a special emphasis on similarly situated questions of law or situation. I regularly consult law review articles and treatises to see if this is a newly developing policy issue or topic.
Do you believe that justices have a responsibility to improve public understanding of the courts? If so, how should they carry out that obligation?
I absolutely believe that every judicial circuit has an obligation to prove the public’s understanding of how the courts work and how to achieve access to those courts. I have already been involved in extensive outreach programs including speaking engagements and probably more importantly teaching engagements and high schools around the state of West Virginia. In addition, the Supreme Court has been developing programs that permit individuals to stream sessions of the Supreme Court of Appeals and also to access past court sessions by saving those recordings to the Supreme Court’s YouTube page. The Supreme Court of Appeals must continue to use technology to reach a greater audience and to inform that audience of the workings of the court. The Supreme Court also is using technology to make it easier for individuals to interact with the court including being able to electronically file court documents. As a circuit judge I was always involved in outreach programs and I have continued that commitment during my time as a Justice on the Supreme Court of Appeals. I consistently make myself available for teaching events and I also made sure to attend as many drug court graduations and family treatment court functions as I possibly can for the purpose of raising awareness regarding the programs available and sponsored by the Supreme Court of Appeals.
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?
I believe that all West Virginians do not have adequate access to legal help or the legal system. This is especially true with our senior citizens and those citizens under the age of 18 years. The greatest obstacle facing our senior citizens and are citizens under the age of 18 is the cost of legal representation. The state of West Virginia and the court system must continue to develop ways to assist these individuals including encouraging adequate funding of legal aid societies and additional inadequate funding for public defender services. In addition to cost, the understanding of how to function inside the legal system is an additional obstacle, particularly for senior citizens. Because of this many seniors become targets for consumer fraud and are taken advantage of. Innovations in the development of remote access and greater access to broadband will be helpful in assisting individuals to have greater access to legal services and legal information.
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?
It's imperative that judges avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest. West Virginia judges must strictly follow recusal rules and the West Virginia Code of Judicial Conduct in order to maintain transparency and afford maximum protection for all of the litigants. The Supreme Court in adopting rules of judicial conduct has adopted rules to prevent judges from knowing who or how much has been contributed. It is imperative that Justices, Judges and all candidates for judicial office strictly adhered to the code of conduct so as to avoid knowledge that could create potential bias and the necessity for recusal. The system of selection of judges in the state of West Virginia requires that candidates actively campaign for the positions.
The rules that exist are in place to protect not only the public but the candidate and if strictly adhered to, prevent recusal situations and protect the public from unfair intervention by any contributor. The fact that the state of West Virginia has campaign contribution limits likewise protects the public by limiting any potential influence from excessive contribution.
As a Supreme Court justice, what recommendations would you make to improve the administration and management of West Virginia’s judicial system?
The Supreme Court of Appeals needs to continue with its remote access initiatives. By this I mean the initiatives designed to permit the electronic filing of documents in the circuit courts and magistrate courts in the state of West Virginia. The current project is only about halfway complete and the court needs to continue to provide the necessary funding and technical expertise to have every circuit clerk in the state operating on a unified system that permits electronic filing of documents, orders, and other pleadings but also provides access statewide to individuals who need to electronically search those documents, providing protection however to those sensitive cases to which there should be no public access i.e. divorces, juvenile matters and abuse and neglect cases.
In addition, the court needs to continue to develop alternative treatment courts including drug courts, military service members courts and especially Family Treatment Courts. Family Treatment Courts are a new innovation that are designed to assist families at risk of being separated due to abuse and neglect conditions. The state currently has five of these courts operating as a pilot project and the Supreme Court of Appeals needs to continue rolling out these courts into other areas so as to achieve the benefits for all West Virginia citizens.
In your opinion, what is the best movie, television program or book ever set inside a courtroom and why?
In my opinion, the best movie regarding a courtroom situation would be To Kill a Mockingbird. Running a close second would be Twelve Angry Men. Both of these films as accurately as possible depict the critical legal questions confronting individuals involved in the legal system as well as the critical personal issues raised by participation in the legal system. The lawyer Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird was faced with extremely personal issues related to the legal issues raised by his representation of the criminal defendant but the film also pointed to the extreme personal issues that the attorney had to confront to continue his representation of a very unpopular client.
In Twelve Angry Men, the audience is introduced to the very real decisions made by laypeople who are called to serve as jurors. The film very adequately depicts the variety of biases held by each of these individuals and how the individuals were required to confront their own biases and perform the function imposed upon them as jurors within our legal system.
I highly recommend both of these films as depicting the issues confronted not only by lawyers involved in the system but also individuals who are involved in the system either as jurors witnesses or simply as observers.