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Litigation: The Gavel
Even More Spending Ahead in W.Va. Court Election
By Peter Hardin
Campaigns for two seats on the West Virginia Supreme Court, already on the national map for their cost heading into Tuesday’s primary, will only get more expensive in upcoming weeks. The four candidates and special interest groups will spend significant sums, a (Charleston) State Journal article predicted.
West Virginia hardly is alone when it comes to big spending judicial elections, the article noted. It pointed to a 2010 report co-authored by Justice at Stake, saying that campaign fundraising in judicial elections nationwide more than doubled between the 1990s and the first decade of the 21st century.
In the West Virginia primary, incumbent Justice Robin Jean Davis and attorney Letitia Chafin won the Democratic Party nod for the Supreme Court seats. They will square off with Republican nominees John Yoder, a circuit court judge, and Allen Loughry, a Charleston lawyer, who were unopposed.
Eight candidates had competed in the primary for the two seats, and the six Democratic candidates spent $1.47 million (see Gavel Grab). By contrast, total spending by candidates for secretary of state, treasurer, commissioner of agriculture, auditor, attorney general and governor added up to about $510,000. Supreme Court candidate Loughry has opted to take advantage of a pilot program for public financing of his campaign.
The two candidates who emerged as the Democratic nominees largely self-financed their campaigns, according to a Charleston Daily Mail report. Chafin put in $1 million, and Justice Davis spent at least $360,000 of her own funds.
Rebecca Love Kourlis, executive director of the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System, voiced questions about state Supreme Court election spending. ”Everyone should have concerns about money in judicial elections. Even with the most upstanding judge, it creates the appearance of justice being for sale to particular constituencies who can donate the most money,” said Kourlis, a former Colorado Supreme Court justice.
She suggested a better option is a combined appointment and retention-election system. “Justice is the ultimate loser when judicial candidates are perceived as just one more version of politician,” Kourlis said. Her organization is a JAS partner group.
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