CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Tim Armstead is the new chief justice of the state Supreme Court. Armstead started in the position last week after being chosen by fellow justices last fall.
Armstead, a 20-year member of the state legislature that included four years as House speaker, will work with lawmakers on the Court’s proposed budget for next fiscal year, the first under a change in the state Constitution.
“We’ve already had discussions with some of the leadership of the legislature about our budget and we sort of started that process last year with last year’s budget even though the Constitutional amendment that gave the oversight to the legislature hadn’t become effective yet,” Armstead said.
The amendment, approved in the November 2018 General Election, gives the House and Senate oversight and allows lawmakers to reduce the budget of the state judiciary by up to 15 percent. The amendment came from the Supreme Court spending controversy of 2018. Only Justice Beth Walker and Justice Margaret Workman remain on the Court from that time.
Up until that statewide vote, West Virginia was the only state where its Supreme Court had total control of its budget.
Amendment Two also requires the chief justice to appear before the legislature to be heard and answer questions concerning the budget of the state judiciary if requested by either chamber of the legislature.
Armstead said he’s looking forward to continuing discussions with lawmakers during the regular session. Armstead said he helped put together budgets for 20 years as a lawmaker.
“I do think that my experience as speaker will give me some insights and some experience that will help me in this role,” Armstead told MetroNews.
He also said working with the legislature should continue to boost the public’s confidence in the Court following the 2018 impeachments.
The Court and legislature created Family Treatment Courts last year. Armstead said he would like to see those offerings expand.
“It’s a new approach to abuse and neglect cases,” Armstead said. “Our top priority is to keep children safe, healthy and in loving homes.”
Armstead, who was appointed by Gov. Jim Justice to the Court in August 2018, said he enjoyed his first full year on the Court, especially hearing oral arguments but he’s not sure more cases will be scheduled for oral arguments with him as chief justice.
“I don’t know whether the number will increase this year but I do know that we’ll continue to take very seriously that option and make sure we bring in any case where, particularly if its a case of first impression, a case that hasn’t been decided before,” he said.
Armstead said he also supports the Court’s process of issuing memorandum decisions on cases. He said the decisions let those involved know exactly why the Court has decided they way it has on a particular case.
“It’s incredibly important for litigants to come before the Court on both sides of each case to be able to leave the court process knowing they got a decision on the true merits of the case,” Armstead said.
The Supreme Court is scheduled to meet in conference for the first time in 2020 this Thursday, Jan. 9. The first docket of oral arguments in the new year is set for Jan. 14.
Armstead was elected in November 2018 to complete the remaining two years of the term first held by former Justice Menis Ketchum who pleaded guilty to a federal criminal charge. Armstead has already announced his run for a full 12-year term in the May election.