CHARLESTON, W.Va. (Legal Newsline) – The days of Democratic or Republican judges in West Virginia are over.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has signed House Bill 2010, which requires the elections of justices of the West Virginia Supreme Court, circuit court judges, family court judges and magistrates to be nonpartisan and by division.
That means in the next judicial elections in 2016, there will no longer be party primaries. All judicial candidates will be on the ballot in the spring primary, and winners will be determined then. The candidates will not be affiliated with parties.
And, when the 2016 election rolls around, there will be four new circuit judge and two new family court judge positions on the ballots across the state.
State Supreme Court Administrator Steve Canterbury said the Legislature enacted HB 2010 to respond to critics who don’t like elected judges or partisan judges. There still will be elections, but lawmakers took a step to minimize the amount of money that would be poured into these elections.
Canterbury noted that the West Virginia Judicial Association didn’t take a stand one way or the other about idea. But he said that as the administrator of the court system, he sees a few benefits of the new law.
“Administratively, having the election is May is extremely helpful,” he said. “It gives us time to get newly elected judges time to have some real judicial education before they’re on the bench.”
Currently, new judges are sent to the National Judicial College in Reno, Nev., for training. But because of the current system of judges being elected in November and taking the bench on Jan. 1, there is little turnover time.
“We always give them a mini course, if you will,” Canterbury said. “And we send them to Reno to school. But often, they’ve already been on the bench for a few months by the time they can get out there. That now won’t be an issue.
“And in the interest of decency, this new law gives judges who lose an election time to transition from the bench. Basically, as an administrator, it’s extremely desirous.”
And because of two other bills signed into law, there will be more judicial seats on ballots across the state.
Tomblin also has signed Senate bills adding circuit judges and family court judges.
SB 415 adds an additional circuit judge in five circuits across the state. SB 479 adds an additional family court judge in two family court circuits.