The newest member of the state Senate can provide immediate expertise when it comes to the state’s prison overcrowding issue. Hampshire County Circuit Judge Donald Cookman was appointed to the Senate this week by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.
Cookman resigned his judicial post right after getting the call from Tomblin. It brought to a close a 20-year career on the bench. But it’s that experience that should help Cookman as lawmakers tackle the overcrowding issue this session.
The new senator tells MetroNews he’s already read through the recommendations released earlier this week by the Justice Reinvestment Initiative. Cookman says he believes circuit judges would like to have more options when it comes to sentencing.
“I think they would welcome more options. What I don’t think that they would be interested in–they don’t want to have their hands tied like the federal system is in their sentencing guidelines,” Cookman said.
The state Supreme Court approved a new policy this week that will require all convicted felons to undergo a risk and needs assessment profile before they are sentenced by a circuit judge.
Cookman says that should help judges.
“They want to know more about the people they are sentencing,” he said. “I think all of the judges statewide would embrace that.”
Cookman says he doesn’t have much time to prepare for the start of the 60-day legislative session. He expects there will be a learning curve when he gets to Charleston just before the Feb. 13 start-up date.
“I’m going to try and learn just as quickly as I can but I know it’s going to be an entirely different challenge for me.” he said.
Sen. Cookman replaces longtime Sen. Walt Helmick who is now the state Agriculture Commissioner. He’ll fill the remaining two years of Helmick’s term.
Cookman is part of the 11th senatorial district that will be the 15th senatorial district in two years. It covers nine counties. Cookman says he hopes to visit each county as soon as possible.
Cookman was a county prosecutor for 20 years before his 20 years on the bench.