The Times West Virginian

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Opinion

October 19, 2012

Davis, Chafin show sound legal concepts to deserve election to state Supreme Court

It’s hard to look at a race for a seat on the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals as a political one, yet we know politics are ever-present in elections. Ideally, an election for a seat on the high court would be as a-political as possible.

And that’s because of the job description. The five-member court is intended to review and interpret the laws of the state of West Virginia without the lenses of politics affecting its decisions. Decisions should be made without the thought of setting social policy or acting in a law-making capacity.

Lawmakers make the laws. The Supreme Court, as part of the crucial system of checks and balances, evaluates the law and determines its constitutionality. The justices determine whether lower courts have made errors while interpreting the laws, and see if cases fit within the boundaries of legal precedence. There’s no partisanship when it comes to evaluating the law and seeing how it applies to cases that have escalated to the appellate court.

That is not to say that the role of a justice cannot exceed the halls of the court and effectively make a difference in the community.

We believe the court as it exists now functions in that way. And we believe that the leadership of Justice Robin Jean Davis has offered not only a great deal of stability to the court, but her vision and desire to improve the court’s process has been evident in the 16 years she’s served.

Five times, she’s held the title of chief justice, and while in that position in 2010, the court com­pletely overhauled the state’s appellate procedure, as well as established new rules on the juvenile proce­dure. She’s currently heavily involved in the court’s initiative on truancy, and has traveled throughout the state to discuss the issue in town hall meetings, with circuit court and family judges and school and commu­nity leaders.

While on the bench, Davis oversaw and helped get grant funding for the establishment of an online Child Abuse and Neglect database as well as the West Virginia Domestic Violence Registry. Davis also established the LAWS program for high school students and the Robes to Schools program for all West Virginia school stu­dents.

“Our court is in a place that I have never seen it in 15 years,” Davis said. “We have a good working relationship. Now, we don’t always agree, but we agree that when we disagree, we do it in a very professional fashion.”

With that in mind, considering her record on the court and her service to the state, the Times West Virginian fully endorses Davis in her bid for re-election to the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.

Letitia Chafin, the managing partner of the H. Truman Chafin Law Firm, earns the Times West Virginian’s second endorsement in the race.

Chafin impresses not only with the breadth of legal experience — being one of two lawyers in a small but successful firm, she’s had experience in everything from business to family law —  but also with her in-depth proposal to change the recusal process on the Supreme Court.

Caperton v. Massey gave the West Virginia court system a “black eye,” Chafin has said. When Hugh Caperton filed a $50 mil­lion lawsuit against A.T. Massey Coal Co., which eventually headed to the Supreme Court, sitting Justice Brent Benjamin refused to recuse himself, despite the fact that Massey CEO Don Blankenship had donated more than $3 million to his campaign.

Chafin has written what she calls the “Balanced Court Initiative,” which she says would make the recusal process more transparent. Under her pro­posal, a litigant can still ask a justice to step down from a case, and if that justice is not willing to do so, the litigant may ask for a full review from the four remaining members and a senior status judge filling the fifth posi­tion. Throughout the entire process, Chafin’s proposal calls for complete transparency and all documents placed online for the public to view.

“It would be nice for the story to end, and West Virginia has led the way in recusal reform. Maybe even if the story starts out a little negative about West Virginia, we can end it on a good note.”

We believe Chafin could be the one to make that “note” happen, so the Times West Virginian fully endorses Chafin for a seat on the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.

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