Randy Yohe Published

Justice Uses ‘Political Values’ In Making Judicial Appointments

A brown gavel rests on a table while blurred books are shown in the background.Pixel-Shot/Adobe Stock

Updated on Friday, Nov. 3, 2023 at 2:50 p.m.

On Friday, Nov. 3, 2023, Gov. Jim Justice released another call to fill a circuit court judge vacancy.

Justice posted that: “The Judicial Vacancy Advisory Commission is currently receiving applications to fill the judicial vacancy created by the death of Judge Joanna I. Tabit in the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit Court serving Kanawha County.”

The governor’s press release came just a few hours after a Justice cabinet member, Secretary of Revenue Dave Hardy, declared that he was seeking the same Thirteenth Judicial Circuit Court seat.

Original Story

When a West Virginia Circuit Court judge leaves the bench, it’s the governor’s duty to appoint someone to fill that vacancy. There’s a legal process involved in judicial appointments, but personal philosophies also come into play when making those choices.   

Circuit court judges are elected to serve eight-year terms. They leave the bench for several reasons – they pass away, retire or take a new position.  

In his two terms in office, Gov. Jim Justice has so far appointed 20 circuit court judges to the bench. State code dictates the Judicial Vacancy Advisory Commission deliver the governor three finalists as part of the selection process. 

According to state code, the commission is made up of four public members and four attorney members. No more than four appointed members can belong to the same political party. The governor, or his designee, the president of the West Virginia State Bar, and the dean of the West Virginia University College of Law shall serve as ex officio members. 

Justice has appointed all four public members. He said he takes the commission’s finalists into strong consideration.

I evaluate and look at all of them very strongly,” Justice said. “Then we either decide to go with one of those, and if we don’t, and if I just can’t get comfortable with any of them, then we’ll go back and ask for another slate of applicants.”

When asked about his personal criteria in making that final appointment, Justice said both political values and fairness come into play. 

“I’m looking to perpetuate the state with conservative values, I give you that,” he said. “But at the same time, I’m looking to grow our state in a non-biased manner.”

Anthony Majestro is the legislative committee chair with the state’s trial lawyers organization, the West Virginia Association for Justice. Majestro said judicial appointments should be based on someone who is fair, hard-working and smart. He said, in his experience, Justice’s judicial appointees have been excellent.

“They’re all hard-working, they’re all smart, fair and they care about the parties that come before them,” Majestro said.I think the governor has done a good job with those appointments.” 

Justice said he has gotten away from his predecessors’ motivations in making judicial appointments.

“We had strong biases for a long time,”Justice said. “What I’m looking for is a person that is open minded, and a person that absolutely wants to perpetuate conservative values. I don’t believe in discriminating or looking at anyone in any other way. I want without a question, justice to be served.”

Justice currently has one circuit court judge vacancy to fill in Cabell County. He has two family court judge vacancies to fill, one serving Mercer and McDowell Counties, the other one serving Hampshire, Mineral and Morgan counties.