Neely may underestimate voters

Richard Neely may be underestimating how angry West Virginians have become at arrogant government officials, especially those in the judicial branch. He also may not realize we have excellent memories.

Now 78 years old, Neely announced this week he will run for a seat on the state Supreme Court. He added he will seek the post now held by Justice Tim Armstead.

Neely is no stranger to the state’s highest court. He served as a justice from 1973-95, then left to go into private law practice.

“What we need to do is clean house,” Neely said last Wednesday, in announcing his candidacy. He made one specific complaint, that it takes an average of 27 months for an appeal from a lower court to be handled by the Supreme Court. Justices need to be more efficient, he thinks.

But of the five justices, only one, Margaret Workman, is a longtime veteran. The next most-senior is Chief Justice Elizabeth Walker, who took office only in January 2017. None of the three others — Armstead, Evan Jenkins and John Hutchison — have served for more than about 14 months.

Most of the justices have been preoccupied with last year’s court scandal, that resulted in three justices leaving. One pleaded guilty to misuse of a state car and state credit card. Another was convicted of a range of crimes affecting taxpayers. The third resigned in the face of impeachment.

Since all that, the justices have been busy establishing new systems to prevent fraud and waste — and, of course, handling cases. They haven’t had much time to accelerate the process of handling appeals.

Neely — who, by the way, is exceedingly intelligent — apparently sees an opportunity to use public outrage about the court to his advantage.

But at some point, many voters are going to scratch their heads and ask themselves, “Where have I heard that name before?”

Well, his connections to politics go way back: His grandfather was Matthew M. Neely, the only person to have ever served as governor and a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate from West Virginia.

That isn’t Neely’s claim to fame, however.

People change, of course. But during his terms on the Supreme Court, Neely became known for outrageous statements. One, in 1990, was made to a national youth conference. He told attendees we’d all be better off if women stayed home and took care of their children.

Apparently he had a personal problem with that. In 1985, while a justice, he fired his secretary — for refusing to continue babysitting for Neely’s young son. That stirred up enough controversy that he had to give the woman back her job. A judicial panel agreed to “admonish” him.

Again, people mature and rethink some of the things they did in the past. Remember, though, that Neely was in his mid-40s when he demanded his secretary — paid for by taxpayers to do the court’s work — babysit.

Neely will raise plenty of money for his high court bid. He has plenty of connections. Expect the trial lawyer crew to support him.

But are Mountain State voters, with arrogance and misuse of taxpayers’ money still fresh in their minds, going to adopt a forgive-and-forget attitude?

Mike Myer can be reached at mmyer@theintelligencer.net.


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