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Voters have three choices for West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals

CHARLESTON — The candidates for three slots on the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals are all used to making rulings and arguments, but this time they need to plead their case before the state’s 1.2 million registered voters next month.

On Tuesday, June 9, voters will have an opportunity to select up to three candidates to sit on the state’s highest court. While candidates for other races on the primary ballot will have to keep campaigning until the Nov. 8 general election, the June 9 election serves as the general election for candidates for Supreme Court, circuit and family courts and magistrate courts.

Supreme Court races are split up into three divisions. The results of races for Division 1 and Division 2 will determine who sits on the Supreme Court bench for the next 12 years. The winner of Division 3 will serve the remaining four years of former justice Allen Loughry’s 12-year term and will be up for a full 12-year term in 2024.

Here are profiles on the candidates in each division.

DIVISION 1 (Full 12-year Term)

Chief Justice Tim Armstead

* 20-year member of the House of Delegates representing Kanawha County

* Former Speaker of the House of Delegates 2015-2018

* Appointed by Gov. Jim Justice to fill Supreme Court seat vacated by Menis Ketchum in 2018

* Winner of 2018 special election to fill remaining term of former justice Ketchum

Chief Justice Tim Armstead, a former attorney and lawmaker, was appointed to fill the seat left vacant by the resignation of former Justice Menis Ketchum, who later pleaded guilty to wire fraud for his use of court-owned vehicles for personal use. Armstead resigned from the House just prior to the start of impeachment proceedings for the remaining justices on the Supreme Court because he had expressed interest in a campaign for Supreme Court justice.

Winning a 10-person special election Nov. 8, 2018 by 26 percent, Armstead was selected by his fellow Supreme Court justices to serve a one-year rotating term as chief justice, succeeding Justice Beth Walker in that role. Armstead has worked since 2018 to improve the court’s rules and procedures to make it more accountable to the public, including how the court sets its annual budget and spending priorities.

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2nd Judicial Circuit Court Judge David Hummel Jr.

* Elected as a circuit court judge in 2008

* Former practicing attorney

* Former assistant prosecutor in Marshall County

Judge David Hummel serves the 2nd judicial circuit, serving Tyler, Wetzel and Marshall counties. He was first elected in 2008 for an eight-year term and re-elected in 2016. Hummel is active in the 2nd judicial circuit’s drug courts and mental health courts.

Among his duties, Hummel is one of five judges in West Virginia who rule on statewide applications for wiretaps. He also serves as one of seven members of the Supreme Court’s Mass Litigation Panel. Based on his location in the heart of the state’s Marcellus Shale region, Hummel has expertise in dealing with issues arising from natural gas production.

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Former justice Richard Neely

* Partner in law firm Neely and Callaghan

* Former Supreme Court justice, elected in 1972 and 1984

* Former member of the House of Delegates for one term, elected in 1970

* Retired U.S. Army Captain

Former Justice Richard Neely served as a justice for two terms starting in 1972 until he resigned in 1995. During his two terms he served as chief justice for the court five times. He formed his own law firm with Charleston attorney Michael Callaghan after leaving the Supreme Court.

A native of Fairmont, Neely was the youngest person to sit on the state Supreme Court and youngest state Supreme Court justice in the nation at the time in 1972. He has worked as an attorney since 1969.

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DIVISION 2 (Full 12-year Term)

13th Judicial Circuit Judge Joanna Tabit

* Appointed to the bench by former Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin in 2014

* Clerk for former state Supreme Court Justice Thomas McHugh

* Former state assistant attorney general from 1989 to 1992

* Joined law firm Steptoe and Johnson in 1992

Judge Joanna Tabit serves the state’s largest and busiest judicial circuit in Kanawha County. She is seeking a full 12-year term to succeed Justice Margaret Workman, the first woman elected to the state Supreme Court in 1988, who declined to seek a third term.

Tabit started her legal career in 1986 while clerking for former state Supreme Court Justice Thomas McHugh and worked for former state attorneys general Roger Tompkins and Mario Palumbo. She was appointed to the 13th circuit in 2014 and won her first term in 2016. Tabit serves on the Supreme Court’s Juvenile Justice Commission. She came in second in the 2018 special election, losing to Armstead.

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11th Circuit Family Court Judge Jim Douglas

* Won election to the bench in 2016

* Maintained his own law practice starting in 1977

* Former prosecuting attorney for Braxton County from 1985 to 1988.

Family Court Judge Jim Douglas is also based in Kanawha County. A native of Sutton and Clay County, Douglas settled in Charleston in 2004. As a family court judge, Douglas hears cases involving divorce, paternity, grandparent visitation and domestic violence civil proceedings. According to the most recent data from 2018, Kanawha County had one of the busiest family court circuits in the state.

Douglas was one of 10 candidates in a 2018 special election to fill the remaining term of former justice Robin Davis, who resigned Aug. 14, 2018, one day after being charged with articles of impeachment by the House of Delegates. Douglas came in fourth in that race with 9 percent, losing to former congressman Evan Jenkins who had previously been appointed by Gov. Jim Justice to fill Davis’ seat.

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Putnam County Assistant Prosecutor Kristina “Kris” Raynes

* 12-year employee of the Putnam County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office

* Former assistant U.S. Attorney

* Former attorney in the Summit County, Ohio, prosecutor’s office

A native of Buffalo in Putnam County, Kris Raynes tried more than 30 felony cases before juries while working as an assistant prosecuting attorney in Ohio. She returned to West Virginia and her home county in 2006 to take a grant-funded position with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of West Virginia.

In 2008, Raynes joined the staff of Putnam County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Sorsaia. Raynes handles felony cases, including child abuse and neglect, and has training as a forensic interviewer of children. Raynes also serves the cities of Nitro and Winfield as a part-time attorney.

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Former legislator William “Bill” Wooton

* Former state senator and member of the House Delegates

* Former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee

* Retired Colonel, U.S. Army Reserve/West Virginia National Guard

Beckley-based attorney Bill Wooton is making his second attempt at a seat on the state Supreme Court. He attempted a run for Supreme Court in 2016, coming in third behind former state Attorney General Darrell McGraw and Beth Walker.

Wooton served in the state Senate from 1990 to 2000 and served several terms in the House of Delegates, most recently between 2008 and 2010. During his time in the Senate, Wooton served as the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, helping to write and pass many laws found in today’s criminal and civil code.

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DIVISION 3 (Special Election)

Justice John Hutchison

* Former circuit court judge in Raleigh County

* Former attorney with law firm Gorman, Sheatsley and Hutchison

* Former assistant basketball coach at Davis and Elkins College and Raleigh County Schools

Justice John Hutchison was appointed in 2018 to fill the seat vacated by former Justice Allen Loughry, who was convicted in federal court of 11 counts, including mail fraud, wire fraud, witness tampering and making false statements to investigators. A former Raleigh County Circuit Court judge, Hutchison was first appointed to the circuit court bench in 1995 by former governor Gaston Caperton, winning election in 1996.

During his 23 years as a judge, Hutchison closed more than 22,500 cases. Hutchison had been endorsed by several labor organizations, such as the AFL-CIO, but those endorsements were pulled after he ruled with the majority of the Supreme Court in favor of upholding the state’s Right to Work law.

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5th Judicial Circuit Judge Lora Dyer

* First elected to the bench in 2016

* Former intern to former Supreme Court Justice Joseph Albright

* Former law clerk to 13th Judicial Circuit Judge James Stucky

* Former Assistant Prosecuting Attorney in Kanawha County

Judge Lora Dyer serves a four-county judicial circuit, including Calhoun, Jackson, Mason, and Roane counties. Dyer has clerked for two Kanawha County circuit court judges, including current Judge Carrie Webster. Dyer calls Jackson County her home.

Dyer served as general counsel to West Virginia State Auditor Lisa A. Hopkins, who took over when former State Auditor Glen Gainer resigned until she was replaced by the election of J.B. McCuskey in 2016. Dyer served as senior deputy commissioner of the West Virginia Securities Commission. Dyer also has private practice experience, working for the Hendrickson & Long law firm.

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Attorney William Schwartz

* Attorney with 30 years of experience in West Virginia

* Named “one of the preeminent Plaintiffs litigation practitioners in the country” by Benchmark Litigation

* Member, West Virginia Association of Justice

Charleston resident William Schwartz is a practicing attorney with experience in personal injury and asbestos cases. Schwartz was named as one of the Top 100 Lawyers in West Virginia by the National Trial Lawyers Association in the fields of asbestos and mesothelioma cases and has helped craft mesothelioma legislation. He was also named a “Litigation Star” by Benchmark Litigation.

Schwartz was one of 10 candidates in the 2018 special election for Supreme Court for the seat that Justice Jenkins won. Schwartz came in 10th with just 4 percent of the vote.

Steven Allen Adams can be reached at sadams@newsandsentinel.com.

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