W.Va. SC race stands out in Tuesday's primaries

By John O'Brien | May 8, 2012


CHARLESTON, W.Va. (Legal Newsline) - West Virginia is holding its primary election Tuesday for two open spots on its Supreme Court, while three attorneys general have nothing to worry about it.

Six Democrats are hoping to move on to November's general election in the West Virginia race. Among them is current Justice Robin Davis, who has been on the court since 1996. She led all competitors in fundraising with more than $240,000.

Tish Chafin, a personal injury attorney who works with her husband, raised $173,600.55, and Greenbrier County Circuit Judge Jim Rowe raised $158,627.46.

Meanwhile, fellow Circuit Judge J.D. Beane reported $89,609.20 in total contributions, Supreme Court law clerk Louis Palmer reported $30,084.24 and New Martinsville attorney H. John Rogers reported $3,829.80.

The primary winners will face two Republicans in the November election. They are Circuit Judge John Yoder and Supreme Court law clerk Allen Loughry.

Elsewhere in the state, current Attorney General Darrell McGraw is unopposed in his party, though a November showdown with Republican Patrick Morrisey awaits him. McGraw's last two re-election efforts resulted in wins by less than 1 percentage point.

On Friday, West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse said it was concerned about the amount of campaign contributions in the Supreme Court race that were coming from the personal injury bar.

According to its own research, CALA said the race's two frontrunners in the Democratic primary, Davis and Chafin, have received nearly 95 percent of all large personal injury lawyer contributions during the primary reporting cycle.

Overall, personal injury lawyer interests account for nearly one-third of the large campaign contributions given to state Supreme Court candidates so far this year, the group noted.

In West Virginia, donations greater than $250 require disclosure of the donor's occupation and employer.

According to her latest filing, Davis has accepted more than $100,000 in contributions from personal injury lawyers, their staff, spouses and family members, CALA found -- accounting for nearly half of her total large contributions.

Meanwhile, Chafin has raised more than 40 percent of her large campaign contributions from personal injury lawyer interests -- a total of more than $60,000 in contributions, the group found.

On the other hand, the other six candidates have combined to raise only $7,500 in large contributions from personal injury lawyer interests.

"While lawmakers previously passed a public financing pilot program for this year's Court race in an attempt to reduce the influence of special interest money, it's clearly having little impact," CALA said in a statement.

In fact, only one candidate, Loughry, opted into the program.

CALA continued, "As a result, most candidates are free to accept significant amounts of campaign contributions from many of the lawyers that could ultimately appear before them on the Supreme Court."

Davis, Chafin and Rowe also lead the pack in cash-on-hand.

Chafin is way ahead of the other seven candidates with a cash balance of $438,088.24.

Rowe's report showed a cash balance of $57,531.85.

Davis reported slightly less cash-on-hand, with $56,972.84.

Meanwhile, Loughry reported a cash balance of $53,724.98; Beane $35,542.14; Yoder $6,568.43; Rogers $1,314.90; and Palmer $1,120.05.

As for expenditures, Davis, Chafin and Rowe also landed on top.

Chafin reported the most in total expenditures, year-to-date, with $732,746.77. Davis reported $543,127.44 and Rowe $110,620.59.

The other candidates reported significantly less in expenditures: Beane, $51,584.86; Palmer, $29,164.19; Loughry, $8,325.02; Rogers, $2,514.90; and Yoder, $1,836.57.

Each campaign's next, or post-primary, report is due in June.

The state's general election is Nov. 6.

Two other attorneys general whose states are having primaries Tuesday are up for re-election - North Carolina's Roy Cooper and Indiana's Greg Zoeller. Neither has any competition Tuesday and none that has been announced for November.

From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at jobrienwv@gmail.com.

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