Associated Press Published

Former W.Va. Supreme Court Justice Neely Seeking Seat Again

The West Virginia Supreme Court chamber.

A former West Virginia Supreme Court justice who once joked that he was “America’s laziest and dumbest judge” announced Wednesday that he’ll seek a seat on the court again next year.

Richard Neely was elected to the court at age 31 in 1972. He served until stepping down in 1995 to start a law practice in Charleston.

Neely, 78, said he’ll seek a 12-year term for the seat currently held by former House of Delegates Speaker Tim Armstead. Armstead won the seat in November’s election to complete the term of Menis Ketchum, who resigned last year before he was convicted and sentenced in federal court to probation on a fraud count related to his personal use of a state vehicle and gas fuel card.

Neely said he’s running because the court system is a mess, especially since a 2018 scandal in which state lawmakers initiated impeachment proceedings that a separate panel of judges later derailed.

Neely said the court “isn’t getting anything done.”

He said it takes more than two years for the Supreme Court to process an appeal, which is “very, very bad for litigants.”

During his time as a justice, Neely often got attention both for what he said and did outside of court. In 1985, he fired his secretary for refusing to continue babysitting his son after three consecutive weeks of watching the child. The public outrage that followed prompted him to restore her job and give up the title of chief justice. At the time, Neely claimed he had a right to order his staff to perform such duties as babysitting, collecting his laundry and typing books he wrote.

In 1986, he sued Trans World Airlines for $38,000 after his baggage arrived 70 minutes late at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. He sought $3,000 from the airline as a speaker’s fee because he informed fellow passengers about the delay. He said he settled out of court for $12,500.

At a youth leadership conference in 1989, Neely suggested attacking drug dealers with baseball bats. He told the same conference a year later that society would be better off if women stayed home with their children.

Current Justice Margaret Workman once said of Neely that “someone should drag him kicking and screaming into the 20th century.”

Neely said Wednesday that he stood by the baseball bat statement. He also reiterated that having women stay at home with young children “would be really nice” because “the more parental time kids have, the better off they are.”

In an ad for a clerk that he placed in the Virginia Law Weekly in 1991, Neely referred to himself as “America’s laziest and dumbest judge.”

The ad sought “a bright person to keep (the judge) from looking stupid,” and gave preference to University of Virginia law students “who studied interesting but useless subjects at snobby schools.”

“If you are dead drunk and miss the interviews, send letters,” the ad said.

Neely defended the ad, calling it a humorous rebuttal to two “highly pompous” federal appeals judges who he said implied in law review articles that clerks “had to be almost superhuman.”

“I couldn’t resist doing that,” Neely said.

Three justices will be elected on May 12.

Ex-circuit judge John Hutchison, who was appointed last year to the seat vacated by convicted former justice Allen Loughry, is serving until a special election in May. Workman, 72, also is up for reelection, but has not indicated whether she plans to run again.

Other candidates in the 2020 Supreme Court races include Kanawha County Circuit Judge Joanna Tabit, Kanawha County Family Court Judge Jim Douglas and Charleston attorney William Schwartz. None have declared which seat they are seeking. The filing deadline is Jan. 25.

Loughry, Workman and Justices Beth Walker and Robin Davis were impeached by the House of Delegates last year. Walker was cleared of an impeachment charge at her Senate trial. Davis retired after the impeachment charges were announced. A temporary panel of justices later derailed the proceedings.

Loughry was convicted and sentenced in federal court in February to two years in prison for using his job for his own benefit and lying to investigators.

Former GOP Congressman Evan Jenkins won a special election for Davis’ seat. His term runs through 2024.