Another lawsuit filed to keep Evan Jenkins off ballot
Seeks to vacate Justice appointments to high court
CHARLESTON — In less than a week, another lawsuit was filed to disqualify U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., from the election for state Supreme Court with a week left before ballots need to be finalized.
Part of the suit also seeks to have the temporary appointments of Jenkins and former House Speaker Tim Armstead to the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals vacated.
The petition, filed with the Supreme Court by William Schwartz, a candidate for the remaining term of former Justice Menis Ketchum, seeks to have the court order Secretary of State Mac Warner to remove Jenkins from the Nov. 6 ballot. Schwartz, an attorney from Charleston, is being represented by Wheeling attorney Teresa Toriseva and Princeton attorney S. Paige Flanigan.
Schwartz’s attorneys argue that Jenkins does not meet the qualifications to run for the Supreme Court because he had his law licenses placed as inactive the four years he has served as a Republican congressman for the 3rd Congressional District. The state Constitution says anyone running for Supreme Court has to be “admitted to practice law for at least 10 years prior to his election.”
“Without current relevant legal experience, this court has no way to ensure a candidate is qualified,” according to the petition.
Toriseva and Flanagan also argue that since Ketchum and Robin Davis ran and won as registered Democrats before a 2015 law made judicial races non-partisan, Gov. Jim Justice is required to select Democrats to replace Ketchum and Davis, a former justice who was impeached and resigned Aug. 13. They also point out that Justice switched parties last year from Democrat to Republican.
“Evan Jenkins’ and Tim Armstead’s appointments violate the West Virginia Constitution by abrogating the clear will of the voters and similarly deny equal protection to those who voted to elect three Democrats,” according to the suit. “The party switch by the governor coupled with these appointments are the filling of elected seats through means other than election and result in three ‘conservative’ Republicans in office where Democrats were elected by the people at the last authorized election.”
In a statement, Jenkins counsel Ancil Ramey disputes the statements made in Schwartz’ petition. While he placed his law license in inactive status, he’s been a member of the state bar for 30 years.
Ramey also points out that the November special elections for Supreme Court will be decided on a non-partisan ballot.
“Under West Virginia law, the petition filed today on behalf of William Schwartz has no merit,” Ramey said.
This is the second suit filed against Jenkins to remove him from the ballot. Clay County attorney Wayne King also filed a petition with the Supreme Court.
“I am confident that the Supreme Court will reject both Mr. Schwartz’ and Mr. King’s meritless petitions so that the voters, and not those who seek to preempt them, can choose if they so desire someone like Evan Jenkins who is both fully eligible and well-qualified to serve as Justice of the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia,” Ramey said.
The petition also said Armstead violated the Emoluments Clause because, as a member of the House of Delegates, he voted for the impeachment process and the 11 articles of impeachment adopted against Davis and justices Margaret Workman, Allen Loughry and Beth Walker last month.
Armstead and Jenkins were appointed by Justice on Aug. 25 to serve until two special elections in November to fill the remaining terms. Ketchum’s term is up in 2020, while Davis’ term is up in 2024. Ten candidates, including Armstead, are running for Ketchum’s seat. Jenkins is one of 10 candidates seeking Davis’ seat in November.
Ketchum resigned July 27 and pleaded guilty Aug. 23 in a federal information for one count of felony wire fraud. He will be sentenced in December.
Davis resigned after the House adopted three articles of impeachment against her for spending $500,000 on office renovations, allegedly circumventing state law to pay senior status judges more than what was legally allowed and for not creating policies and procedures to control spending and use of state property. Despite resigning and leaving office, Davis still faces an impeachment trial Oct. 29 in the West Virginia Senate.
There is no word yet on when or if the Supreme Court will hear the two petitions, but time is limited. By law, absentee ballots must be printed and delivered to county clerks no later than Sept. 21.
“I’m ready to get to work to bring the change every proud West Virginian deserves and demands,” Jenkins said. “These bogus lawsuits are simply an effort to cover up for the outrageous spending and misuse of taxpayer money we’re all mad as heck about and to score political points for another candidate’s own campaign simply trying to get his name in the news.”
A request for comment from Armstead was not immediately available.