By Ron Gregory
WILLIAMSON — The gauntlet has been tossed.
Newly-elected Mingo County Democrat Executive Committee Chairman H. Truman Chafin has called a meeting of the committee for 4:30 p.m., Aug. 5. The session, to be held in the circuit courtroom at the courthouse, will convene for the purpose of selecting a candidate to place on the November ballot for Family Court Judge.
Although most elected officials have agreed that such an election is called for, some in Charleston have quietly tried to persuade Mingo Democrats not to select a candidate. Instead, some representatives of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and an attorney for Secretary of State Natalie Tennant have argued that the governor should appoint someone to fill the remaining two years of the term.
The position was left vacant when Mingo Family Court Judge Miki Thompson won the May Democrat primary and Tomblin appointed her to fill the circuit judge position.
Mingo County Clerk Big Jim Hatfield has taken the position that, since the Family Court vacancy occurred more than 84 days before the scheduled general election, he intends to place candidates on the November ballot. Hatfield has said the methodology outlined by state law suggests the Democrat and Republican county executive committees should each name a candidate.
Efforts by Tennant’s attorney, Tim Leach, to persuade Hatfield and his personal attorney that they should abandon the election idea have proven futile. When asked if Tennant will challenge a ballot prepared by Hatfield that includes Family Court Judge, Tennant spokesman Jake Glance has refused to respond.
Tomblin’s spokesman, Chris Stadleman, told a reporter a month ago that Tomblin and his general counsel, Peter Marcum, felt the governor should appoint the new judge to serve out the term. But Tomblin himself has contradicted that statement.
Chafin said, “I have no problem calling this meeting and naming a candidate. We read the law to say the parties will nominate someone by Aug. 10 (84 days before the general election, according to the West Virginia Code) and I call on my Republican counterpart to also field a candidate. Let’s let the people of Mingo County decide who is going to serve them for a change.”
All observers note that Tomblin could have avoided the issue of an election versus an appointment if he had simply waited past Aug. 12 to name Thompson. “But he couldn’t stand it,” said Republican State Chairman Conrad Lucas. “He (Tomblin) ignored that law and let the position sit open for four or five months when he has 30 days to name a replacement circuit judge. Then, as soon as he thinks Democrats have voted and selected Thompson, he rushes to appoint her.”
Lucas continued, “Folks believe this governor has a lot of trouble deciding who he wants to appoint. Boards and commissions lie far short of their required numbers because he doesn’t appoint anybody. So he waits four months in Mingo and rushed to judgment based on the whims of the Democrat constituency.”
Lucas and Republican Party attorneys have pointed out that Kanawha County Circuit Judge Paul Zakaib and Family Court Judge Mike Kelley announced their resignations earlier this year but made them effective Aug. 30.
“The Kanawha County judges, at least, understood the law,” said Lucas. “Unlike the governor, they did not create a dilemma for themselves and the people of their county.”
Chafin said his committee will address any other issues that come before them regarding the fall election.
He also said that those wanting to apply for the Family Court Judge position should provide their resumes to him by July 31. Chafin said he is “inclined to let each one that applies have an opportunity to speak to the committee for five minutes before they make their decision Aug. 5.
Chafin asked that candidates provide 15 copies of their resume “so each member of the committee can have a copy.” There are 14 members of the committee. He said the resumes should be mailed directly to his office on the second floor of the Post Office building in Williamson. For more information, contact the chairman at 304-235-2221.