What do you think are the biggest issues or challenges facing the legal community right now? How would you address them?
Given the fact that two justices will be elected in 2012, while there are only five justices on the Supreme Court, the selection of those justices simply has to be at the top of the list of issues facing our court system. Replacing two members on the Supreme Court can result in a seismic shift in the result of virtually every case that the court will consider during the next decade. If the wrong candidates are chosen, and if average West Virginia citizens, as well as business leaders from throughout the state, believe that those candidates are activists who will legislate from the bench, confidence in the entire system will be lost.
The judiciary is critically important to people's lives and when people do not have confidence in the system, it is seen as just another political branch of government. When a judiciary is perceived as impartial, however, the judicial system serves as a safeguard of the people's rights and freedoms. Another glaring issue surrounding the legal system is the amount of money in judicial elections. It has risen to a staggering level and is extremely corrosive on the system. West Virginia already has an appearance of corruption at all levels of our state government and when people see judicial candidates raising countless thousand dollar contributions, they are seen as "owned" by the high-dollar contributors. Contributions for judicial candidates should be treated differently from that of contributions to executive and legislative candidates. Judges should not be subject to pressure from the other branches of government or from politically powerful and well-connected individuals or groups.
It is society's confidence in the impartiality of individual decisions that forms the core strength of the judiciary as an institution, and having judges raising and spending millions of dollars ... affects the appearance of impartiality. And, it is my belief that the "appearance of impartiality" quickly becomes a reality in the minds of average citizens. This is particularly important because an impartial judiciary is the cornerstone of democracy.
A hot topic this year has been changing the justice recusal rule. Currently, recusal motions are filed under the West Virginia Rules of Appellate Procedure, and the decision to recuse is up to the justice. Do you think this rule needs to be changed?
Given the perception problems surrounding our entire system of government, I am certainly not opposed to reviewing our state's recusal rules. In fact, Chief Justice Menis Ketchum is already working on that issue now as one of his initiatives. He is taking his time to thoroughly review how other states have dealt with this issue, and I am confident that solid rules will be produced that everyone will be pleased with at the end of the day. I am certainly not at liberty to reveal those private discussions with the chief justice, but I can assure you that he has a thorough understanding of this issue and it is being dealt with by the Supreme Court in a non-political manner.
Chief Justice Ketchum is not up for re-election this year which will lead to an impartial review. In reviewing our recusal rules, we simply need to apply common sense and not just make a bunch of comments based upon short-term political gain. The proposed plan by one of the other candidates is simply not workable. It isn't well thought out and is filled with glaring holes. I believe that Chief Justice Ketchum called it "silly" and "crazy." Asking other justices to rule on another justice's recusal is similar to asking your wife to vote against you. Or in the event that a court is not as congenial as the current court, you could be inviting an enormous amount of politics directly in the chambers of the court. It just isn't a good plan.
A better idea would be allowing a panel of senior status judges to review a justice's refusal to remove himself or herself from a particular case. And, it is something that I will strongly be involved with if I am fortunate enough to win a seat on this court. Having said all of the above, why are some candidates only talking about recusal rules? If we are truly concerned about the appearance surrounding the Supreme Court, why aren't we talking about the amount of money pouring into judicial elections? This in many ways goes to the very heart of why recusals become an issue in the first place as one candidate has already openly and proudly announced that she was putting $1 million of her family's personal wealth in her campaign. The message was immediately sent to every kid growing up in every rural part of this state that they were not good enough to participate in this state's government. It is shameful as you should not be able to buy a seat on the Supreme Court like you go to Kroger and buy a bar of soap off the shelf.
If elected, what would you bring to the court? Are there any initiatives — such as the truancy, juvenile drug court initiatives — you would like to start or continue?
Selecting me on the court would certainly continue the collegiality of the justices currently serving on the court. As an attorney who has worked at the Supreme Court for the past nine years, and who also spent seven years arguing before the Supreme Court as a senior assistant attorney general, I have worked well with every member who currently serves at the court.
In all, I have worked with more than 20 Supreme Court justices at both the West Virginia and Ohio supreme courts. I have also argued or filed pleadings in the northern and southern federal district courts, the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, as well as the U.S. Supreme Court. I have been appointed a special prosecuting attorney to represent the state on several occasions and have been fortunate enough to have completed four separate law degrees from the University of London, American University Washington College of Law, Capital University, as well as studying law at Oxford. I bring a wealth of appellate experience and am ready and anxious to hit the ground running on Jan. 1, 2013. I also worked as a direct aide for Gov. Gaston Caperton and worked as a special assistant to a U.S. Congressman providing me with valuable experiences at all three branches of government. Such experiences highlight my strong belief that the judiciary is a separate branch of government where judges should not legislate from the bench. That authority is properly reserved for the Legislature.
I also have a personal and professional track record of working with people from all types of backgrounds. A prime example of this is the publication of my book, "Don't Buy Another Vote, I Won't Pay For A Landslide." In the book, I take on corruption regardless of political party affiliation. And, the introductions to the book were written by Sens. Robert C. Byrd and John McCain — a Democrat and Republican. I want to help clean up this state's politics. We have had a black eye for too many generations, and it most certainly hurts this state's business climate.
The second part of your question surrounded initiatives. I am certainly in favor of the Supreme Court getting deeper involved with truancy issues as studies have clearly shown that truancy is the first step in a lifetime of problems for these children, which, in turn, creates problems for society as a whole. I believe that the court's "drug court's" have also been successful, and we need to look to improve upon those courts and bring them to every corner of this state as drug problems are quickly reaching the epidemic stage. I also want to continue what is known as the LAWS docket (Legal Advancement for West Virginia Students). This is a successful program that involves a partnership between the judicial system and the school system with the ultimate goal of educating the students. I have participated in this program numerous times as a senior assistant attorney general, as well as an attorney at the Supreme Court, and I always thought it was beneficial to the students in enumerable ways. I want to see the Supreme Court take that program to all 55 counties before I complete my 12-year term.