Wheeling to host Supreme Court candidates forum

WHEELING — Candidates for two unexpired seats on the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals will be here for a candidate forum this month.

At least 15 of the 20 candidates have confirmed they will attend the event, set for Oct. 21 at West Virginia Northern Community College. The time and format for the forum are still being determined, but it is expected to take place throughout the afternoon, according to Ohio County Republican Party Chairwoman Elgine McArdle.

The event is being jointly sponsored by the county Republican and Democrat parties, along with the County Bar Association. J. Michael Myer, the executive editor for The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register, will moderate.

District 1 candidates are seeking an unexpired two-year term on the court to take the seat previously held by Menis Ketchum. Those in the 1st District race who have committed to the forum are Harry “Bo” Bruner, of Kanawha County; Robert H. Carlton, of Mingo County; Ronald H. Hatfield Jr., of Cabell County; Mark Hunt, of Kanawha County; Joanna I. Tabit, of Kanawha County; Chris Wilkes, of Berkeley County; and Jeff C. Woods, of Kanawha County.

As of Wednesday afternoon, there had been no response from Tim Armstead, of Kanawha County; Hiram “Buck” Lewis, of Clay County; or D.C. Offutt Jr., of Cabell County. Armstead, the former speaker of the House of Delegates, was appointed Aug. 25 by Gov. Jim Justice to serve as interim justice until voters fill the seat more permanently.

In District 2, candidates are seeking election to an unexpired six-year term to which Robin Davis had been elected. Those committing include Jim Douglas, of Kanawha County; Robert J. Frank, of Greenbrier County; Jeffrey Kessler, of Marshall County; Brendan Long, of Putnam County; Jim O’Brien and Marty “Redshoes” Sheehan, of Ohio County; Dennise Renee Smith, of Kanawha County; and William Stewart Thompson, of Boone County.

Not responding as of Wednesday afternoon were Evan Jenkins, of Cabell County; and William Schwartz, of Kanawha County. former U.S. Rep. Jenkins, R-W.Va., also was appointed Aug. 25 by Justice to serve as interim justice.

“It’s exciting,” said Brann Altmeyer of the Ohio County Bar Association. “The candidates are already participating in a forum (Monday night) in Charleston, and it will be wonderful to have the candidates in the Northern Panhandle so our residents have a chance to meet and get to know the many candidates.

“Because they come from various backgrounds, we all need to find out why each candidate is qualified to serve,” he said. “It is worth the effort to make sure the court maintains its status into the future.”

McArdle is organizing the forum. She said time for the event has yet to be finalized because of the large number of candidates appearing.

She is proposing having three separate sessions, each featuring five to six candidates depending on the final number who will participate. The first would start at 1 p.m., followed by a half-hour break. The second would take place from 2:30 p.m. until 3:30 p.m., with the third set for 4-5 p.m.

Prior to the forum, candidates would receive the six questions they would be asked. There would be two questions asked each by the Republican Party, the Democrat Party and the Bar Association.

McArdle said the Democrat Party and Bar Association must agree to the format.

Ohio County Democrat Party Co-Chairwoman Tiffany Hoffman, also Ohio County assessor, did not immediately return calls seeking comment.