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House passes bill to make election of judges nonpartisan

CHARLESTON, W. Va. — The House on Wednesday passed a bill which would change the selections of judges to nonpartisan elections beginning in 2016.

Currently, West Virginia is one of just seven states that elects judges on a partisan basis.

House Judiciary Chair John Shott (R-Mercer) said H.B. 2010 would “remove the taint” of partisan elections from the operation of the state’s judiciary system on all levels.

“This is intended to remove any perception that those individuals might be beholding to a particular party organization or particular group of people with whom that party is perceived as being affiliated.”

Proponents of the bill expressed the desire to instill confidence in citizens when they must deal with the state’s legal system.

“The appearance of impropriety means impropriety,” Delegate John McCuskey (R-Kanawha) said. “If you are standing in front of a judge and there is any doubt in your mind as to whether or not fairness can be distributed upon you in that courtroom, then I don’t believe you would ever believe a fair result would occur.”

The West Virginia Judicial Association, made up of 70 circuit judges across the state, told the judicial committees in both the House and the Senate that they do not oppose the legislation.

However, there were some delegates who voiced opposition to the bill for several reasons.

Delegate Tim Manchin (D-Marion) felt the bill was a promise of no impropriety within the system they could not entirely keep.

Delegate Barbara Fleischauer (D-Monongalia) worried that by moving the final election to the primary election, voters would be losing an opportunity to learn about the candidates. Also, with ethical code limiting what the candidates could say during a campaign, removing the letter from beside a candidate’s name removes information about them.

“You do know a little bit about a person because they say ‘This is the party I’m going to align myself with,'” she said. “Because their speech is limited by the canon of ethics, this gives voters information.”

Shott agreed that it would require more effort to learn about the candidates, but that effort would be well worth the time.

“The enforcement of our laws that are there for our protection and our family’s protection is extremely important and we as voters and citizens need to take the effort to find out about our candidates.”

H.B. 2010 passed on a vote of 90-9 and moves over to the Senate.

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