|Supreme Court of Appeals|
of West Virginia
Seal of the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia
|Location||Charleston, West Virginia|
|Authorized by||West Virginia Constitution|
|Appeals to||Supreme Court of the United States|
|Judge term length||12 Years|
|Number of positions||5|
|Website||Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia|
|Lead position ends||2021|
|Jurist term ends||2021|
The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia is the state supreme court of the state of West Virginia, the highest of West Virginia's state courts. The court sits primarily at the West Virginia State Capitol in Charleston, although from 1873 to 1915, it was also required by state law to hold sessions in Charles Town in the state's Eastern Panhandle. The court also holds special sittings at various locations across the state.
Although the West Virginia Constitution allows for an intermediate court of appeals to be created, the Supreme Court currently provides the only review of the decisions of the state's trial courts of general jurisdiction, the West Virginia Circuit Courts. In December 2010, the Supreme Court promulgated a major revision of West Virginia's rules of appellate procedure, by which it provided that it would hear all properly perfected appeals of right from the circuit courts.
Justices are elected to 12-year terms in staggered, statewide, nonpartisan elections. In years that two seats are up for election, a separate election is held for each seat. Before 2015, the justices of the court were elected in partisan elections; only one justice remains from the partisan era.
Pursuant to the West Virginia Code (chapter 51), the Court holds two regular sessions annually with the first session commencing on the second Tuesday in January and the second session commencing on the first Wednesday in September. The Court may also sit in special session as needed.
Upon the death, resignation, or removal of a sitting justice, Article 8, Section 2 of the West Virginia Constitution permits the Governor to appoint a replacement. An election to fulfill the unexpired term must be held by the next regular general election. Because of the long length of the courts term (12 years), mid-term vacancies are frequent.
|Office||Justice||Party||Assumed office||Next election|
|Chief Justice||Tim Armstead||Republican||September 25, 2018||2020|
|Justice||Margaret Workman||Democratic||January 1, 2009||2020|
|Justice||Beth Walker||Republican||January 1, 2017||2028|
|Justice||Evan Jenkins||Republican||October 1, 2018||2024|
|Justice||John Hutchison||Democratic||December 12, 2018||2020|
Until 2015, elections to the Supreme Court of Appeals were partisan. After Republicans took control of the West Virginia Legislature, the elections were changed to be non-partisan. Despite their officially nonpartisan status, the political party memberships of all justices are known, as all have held or run for other partisan offices.
On November 12, 2018, Allen Loughry resigned after being impeached and convicted of multiple federal felonies.
Governor Jim Justice appointed Jenkins (a Congressman), and Armstead (the former House of Delegates Speaker) to two vacant seats on August 25, 2018. Both Jenkins and Armstead filed their candidacies for the November general election, and both were elected.
On December 12, 2018, Justice appointed Hutchison, a lifelong friend and circuit judge in Raleigh County, to the seat vacated by Loughry. Justice made the appointment despite Hutchison being in a different political party from himself, describing Hutchison as "a conservative" and "a respected jurist".
The Chief Justiceship is a rotating office, which by tradition changed from one Justice to another each year. In October 2019 it was announced that Tim Armstead was selected for a one year term for 2020. This is his first time as Chief.
The Court sometimes designates "senior-status" (retired) judges or justices to temporarily fill vacancies when required. Other times it will promote a current Circuit Court Judge. By tradition most Circuit Judges are promoted to at least one such case during their careers. For the Fall 2018 Term, the Court appointed Cabell County Circuit Court Judge Paul T. Farrell to sit in the place of Loughry. This was a temporary assignment and did not constitute Ferrell becoming a Justice. In light of Loughry's resignation and Hutchison's appointment, Ferrell returned to duty in Cabell County at the end of the fall 2018 court term.
On December 20, 2007, Justice Starcher announced that he would not seek another term on the Court, as polls indicated he would not win.
In the May 13, 2008 primary election, Maynard was defeated for reelection, placing third in the Democratic primary. Maynard was defeated for the two available spots in the general election by former Supreme Court justice Margaret Workman and Huntington attorney Menis Ketchum. Workman and Ketchum, both Democrats, were elected to the Court in November 2008 by defeating Republican Beth Walker.
The seats held by Robin Davis and Thomas McHugh were up for election in 2012. McHugh had previously stated he was retiring and not running for re-election. Davis was re-elected, while Allen Loughry II was elected to his first term in office. Loughry was previously best known for writing Don't Buy Another Vote, I Won't Pay for a Landslide, a book that about political corruption in West Virginia. Loughry was elected as a Republican, meaning that court had two elected Republicans (Loughry and Brent Benjamin) for the first time since 1940.
The seat held by Brent Benjamin was contested. This was the first election held on a non-partisan basis, and the first decided during the May primary election rather than in November. Because the expiration of the 12 year Supreme Court term and the 8 year Circuit Court term coincided, no current circuit judge could run for the seat without forgoing an attempt at re-election to his or her current position. Benjamin announced on April 16, 2015 that he would seek a second term, this one on a non-partisan basis. On June 5, 2015, Beth Walker, announced she would be a candidate, stating that she would run to the political right of Benjamin. On December 12, 2015, trial lawyer and former Democratic legislator, William Wooten, announced he would be a candidate, supported by donations from trial lawyers and run to the left of those candidates. On the last day to file, former justice Darrell McGraw, who was voted out of office after one term in 1988 announced he would run to the left of all candidates.
In the election, Beth Walker received 39% of the vote to McGraw's 23%, Wooten's 21% and Benjamin's 12%. Walker took office on January 1, 2017.
On July 11, 2018, due to the 2017-2018 expenses scandal (see below), Justice Ketchum resigned. This triggered the first special election held on November 6, 2018. The Governor filled the vacancy until the election by appointing Tim Armstead, the former state House Speaker. A total of 10 candidates filed for the seat. Tim Armstead, the appointee was elected with 26% of the vote, with Kanawha County Circuit Court judge Joanna I. Tabit receiving 22%, Eastern Panhandle Circuit Court Chief Judge Chris Wilkes receiving 13%, former State Senator Mark Hunt receiving 12%, and 6 remaining candidates splitting the remainder. Armstead will continue to serve the remaining time of Ketchum's term, which will expire on January 1, 2021.
On August 14, 2018, due to the 2017-2018 expenses scandal (see below), Justice Davis retired. This triggered the second special election held on November 6, 2018. The Governor filled the vacancy until the election by appointing Evan Jenkins, who resigned from Congress to fill the seat. A total of 10 candidates filed for this seat as well. Evan Jenkins, the appointee was elected with 36% of the vote, with Dennise Renee Smith receiving 14%, former State Senate president Jeff Kessler receiving 12%, and the 7 remaining candidates splitting the remainder. Jenkins will continue to serve the remaining time of Davis' term, which would expire on January 2, 2025.
This section needs to be updated.June 2020)(
Three separate elections will be held in May 2020.
The full-term (12 years) seats currently held by Justices Workman and Justice Armstead will be contested. These elections will again be held on a non-partisan basis and will consist of a separate election for each seat (previously when two seats were being contested a single "vote for two" election was held). The winner of each election will take office in January 2021. Justice Armstead has stated he will be a candidate for re-election. Justice Workman will not be and will retire at the end of the Fall 2020 term.
Justice Amrstead's seat has been designated as "Division One". He will face David Hummel, currently a circuit judge in Marshall, Wetzel, and Tyler counties; and former Justice Richard Neely, currently a trial lawyer. Neely would be 91 years old should he be elected and complete a full 12 year term.
Justice Workman's seat has been designated as "Division Two". Candidates are Kanawha County Family Judge Jim Douglas; Putnam County assistant prosecutor Kris Raynes; Kanawha County Circuit Judge Joanna Tabit; and Beckley trial lawyer Bill Wooton.
A third, special, election, will be held to fill the remainder of what was originally Loughry's term, now filled by appointment by Hutchison. This has been designated as the "Unexpired Term" and will run from the certification of the final count in the May election, presumably done within a few days, until January 2025, with the seat again up for election in May 2024. Justice Hutchison will run against Jackson County Circuit Judge Lora Dyer; and Charleston trial lawyer Bill Schwartz.
Because the 8-year Circuit Judge term and the 12-year Supreme Court terms are not overlapping, current Circuit Judges can run in 2020 without giving up their current jobs. Douglas, Tabit, Wooton, and Schwartz were all losing candidates in the 2018 special elections.
In late 2017, WCHS-TV and other media outlets began reporting on spending by the court. Eventually, an ongoing investigation by the office of the United States Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia was launched, and the court was audited by the state's legislative auditor.
The charges of rampant corruption led to calls for the impeachment of Loughry and any other member of the court found to be involved.
On July 11, 2018, Justice Ketchum resigned from the court. On July 31, 2018, he entered a guilty plea in the United States District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia in Charleston to one count of wire fraud. Justice Loughry was convicted in the same court on October 12, 2018 of seven counts of wire fraud, two counts of lying to federal investigators and one count each of mail fraud and witness tampering. He was originally scheduled to be sentenced on January 16, 2019, however, those proceedings are currently on hold.
On August 13, 2018, the full House of Delegates impeached the four remaining members of the court. On August 14, 2018, Justice Davis retired, effective August 13, 2018. The West Virginia Senate, however, refused to dismiss the articles of impeachment against Davis and scheduled her for trial along with the other justices.
In the first of the four impeachment trials, the Senate, in a 32-1-1 vote on October 2, 2018, decided not to remove Justice Walker from office. The Senate followed by agreeing, by voice vote, to publicly "reprimand and censure" Justice Walker for her actions in the scandal.
The remaining justices were scheduled to tried separately in October and November 2018. Rather than face trial, Justice Workman sued the Legislature before a reconstituted Supreme Court, which ruled in her favor on technical grounds. As this also applied to Justice Loughry, he continued to be a Justice until resigning November 12, 2018. Further impeachment efforts against Workman are doubtful.
As a result of the widespread changes to the appellate process in this State that took place in 2010, the number of written decisions on the merits issued by the Court has expanded significantly. The appeal by right process adopted by the Court has been fully implemented . . .
Court decisions freely available to the public online, in a consistent format, digitized from the collection of the Harvard Law Library