Supreme Court vacancies draw 20 candidates for November, including former state Senate President

CHARLESTON — Voters casting ballots in the November general election for two seats on the state Supreme Court will have 20 candidates to choose from.

The condensed filing period ended at midnight Tuesday.

There are 10 candidates for each seat. The Division 1 seat carries a two-year term left following the resignation/retirement of Justice Menis Ketchum. The Division 2 seat has six years left on its term after last week’s retirement of Justice Robin Davis on the same night the House of Delegates voted to impeach her and three other members of the Court.

Former state Senate President Jeff Kessler, who filed to run for the Division 2 seat Tuesday, would bring 37 years of practicing law to the bench.

“I’ve done everything from probate to adoption, from cradle to grave,” Kessler said Wednesday on MetroNews “Talkline.” “I know the law and I know how the process works and I’ve been instrumental in writing many of the laws.”

Kessler, who served 19 years in the legislature from Marshall County, lost in his run for governor two years ago. He said integrity and confidence must be returned to the Court following the spending controversy which spawned federal charges and impeachment trials that are pending in the state Senate.

Boone County Circuit Judge Will Thompson is also a candidate for the Division 2 seat. He said Wednesday on “Talkline” the Supreme Court’s spending habits were upsetting.

“I have programs that the Supreme Court has tried to cut positions from and frankly it made me very mad when I saw some of the expenditures they made,” Thompson said. “They’re trying to cut case manager aids from one of my drug courts at the same time they are buying a $32,000 couch.”

Thompson has been on bench for more than 11 years. He said he’d consider himself an umpire when it comes to judicial philosophy who follows the law. He has been proactive in the area of drug courts and he wants to carry that philosophy for what he calls family drug courts that he believes could help with neglect and abuse cases.

“If we did the drug court model and placed that into the abuse and neglect world not only could we have a quicker resolution to the case but actually think we could help some of the parents,” Thompson said.

He pledged to bring stability to the state Supreme Court, along with real-world experience of dealing with the drug epidemic.

“Talkline” host Hoppy Kercheval asked both Kessler and Thompson if they would remodel the $500,000 office occupied by Davis if they were to be elected. Both said they wouldn’t be spending any more of the state’s money on renovations.

Kessler said he left the Senate president’s office untouched when he replaced Earl Ray Tomblin and he would do the same at the High Court.

“The seats, the cushions, everything stayed the same during by three to four year tenure there,” Kessler said.

Thompson said he also plans no changes: “I wouldn’t change a doggone thing.”

The pricey office remodel wound up being one of the Articles of Impeachment filed against Davis.

Former House of Delegates Speaker Tim Armstead filed to run Tuesday for the Division 1 vacancy. He resigned his seat in the House before doing so. The Division 1 race also includes Kanawha County Circuit Judge Joanna Tabit and longtime Eastern Panhandle Circuit Judge Chris Wilkes.

Third District Congressman Evan Jenkins is among the Division 2 candidates.

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