BECKLEY, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice named his longtime friend Raleigh County Circuit Judge John Hutchison to a vacant seat on the state Supreme Court Wednesday, filling the seat held by convicted Justice Allen Loughry.
Loughry resigned from the Court last month. He was convicted in October on several counts of fraud, the result of an investigation into Court spending that he first contacted federal authorities about. Loughry is appealing the conviction. He stepped down from the Court after the House of Delegates scheduled a second vote on his impeachment. The first impeachment vote was thrown out by a fill-in Supreme Court after an appeal from Chief Justice Margaret Workman who was also impeached by the House last summer.
Justice and Hutchison grew up together in Beckley. Hutchison delivered the oath of office when Justice was sworn-in as governor in January 2017. He did so in a private ceremony in Greenbrier County hours before the public ceremony in Charleston.
“I have known John Hutchison my entire life. He has been a Raleigh County Circuit Court Judge for 23 years and is one of the most conservative, respected jurists in the state of West Virginia,” Justice said. “He has served on the state’s Mass Litigation panel since 1997. I spoke with some judges prior to making this appointment and they encouraged me to appoint a circuit judge to this position. I’m very pleased to appoint Judge Hutchison to the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.”
Hutchison did not throw his hat into the ring when two other seats came open on the Court earlier this year. Justice chose former Congressman Evan Jenkins and former House of Delegates Speaker Tim Armstead for vacancies created by the resignations of Justice Menis Ketchum, who plead guilty to a federal crime, and Justice Robin Davis, who resigned the day she was impeached by the House of Delegates.
Jenkins and Armstead were both elected in November. Jenkins has a six-year term. Armstead’s seat will be up for election again in May 2020.
Hutchison said Wednesday his appointed wasn’t political.
“I know him well enough to know that had he not believed that I had the credentials to do the job I wouldn’t be standing here today,” Hutchison said. “I mean that’s just Jim Justice. He has friends. He has friends all over this state but he’s not going to do something for a friend that’s going to harm this state.”
Hutchison was one of 17 people who made application for the Loughry vacancy. He, along with more than a dozen others, interviewed with the state Judicial Vacancy Advisory Commission Tuesday. State code authorizes the governor to make the final decision.
Justice and Hutchison appeared for the brief announcement Wednesday afternoon at the Raleigh County Courthouse.
Hutchison will serve until the May 2020 election when Loughry’s unexpired term will be up for election. The candidate elected in that race will serve until December 2024, the end of Loughry’s original 12-year term.
Hutchison and Justice attended Woodrow Wilson High School and played basketball together 50 years ago.
“He truly believes that, if you think you can do it, you can do it,” Hutchison told MetroNews after he swore-in Justice nearly two years ago. .“You have to know Jim Justice to know that it was not hyperbole for him to say, ‘I’m not looking for something for me or my family. I’m looking to move the state (forward).’ He believes that and that is an honest statement from him. Jim has a vision and his vision is not mine or anybody else’s, but his works.”
Hutchison was appointed circuit judge in Raleigh County by Gov. Gaston Caperton in 1995. He was elected in 1996 and re-elected in 2000, 2008 and 2016.
Hutchison’s appointment to the Court means temporary Justice Paul Farrell, who has served since Aug. 9 when he was appointed to sit-in for the suspended Loughry by Workman, will return to his courtroom in Cabell County.
The other four members of the state Supreme Court are praising Justice’s selection of Hutchison. Chief Justice Workman called it a wise choice. Justice Beth Walker predicted Hutchison would be a great help to the Court. Justice Armstead said he’s had a good working relationship with Hutchison over the years while Justice Jenkins said Hutchison brings years of judicial experience to the bench.
West Virginia Republican Party Chairwoman Melody Potter praised the appointment. She said in a statement that Hutchison “brings decades of legal and judicial experience to the bench. This appointment by Governor Justice is an important step in restoring faith in our state’s judicial branch of government.”
West Virginia Democratic Party Chairwoman Belinda Biafore criticized Justice in a statement.
“Governor Justice is doing what he does best, ignoring the people of West Virginia and moving forward with his own self-serving, corrupt agenda. The people of West Virginia overwhelming voted for Joanna Tabit making her the 3rd highest vote-getter in the Supreme Court races with 112,000 votes.
With absolutely no disrespect to Justice’s appointee John Hutchinson, once again this appointment was made in spite of West Virginia voters.”