By Ron Gregory
WILLIAMSON — The battle has been joined.
Mingo County Clerk “Big Jim” Hatfield announced Thursday that he will challenge a directive from Secretary of State Natalie Tennant regarding the Nov. 4 General Election. Tennant had given Hatfield until Thursday to comply with an order from her to remove the Family Court judge position from the fall ballot.
For weeks, Hatfield has publicly taken the position that Mingo County voters should choose a candidate to fill the two years remaining on the unexpired term of now-Circuit Judge Miki Thompson. She had served as Family Court judge until Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin promoted her to fill the unexpired term of Michael Thornsbury, who was indicted and convicted on federal criminal charges.
Hatfield has consistently said he believes that, since Tomblin appointed Thompson more than 84 days before the election, the voters should choose a successor. Members of the governor’s staff, Tennant’s staff and the state election commission apparently believe that the governor should make the appointment.
“What it comes down to is this,” the clerk said Thursday. “I trust the people of Mingo County to choose their own Family Court judge; Mrs. Tennant does not. Hatfield pointed out, “Family Court judge is an important position. Whoever is in that office affects many, many Mingo families at one time or another. The people should not be forced to stand before someone they didn’t elect for two long years. There is absolutely no accountability.”
Hatfield said that his personal attorney, Ben White of Chapmanville, has been instructed to file a writ of prohibition requesting that the court stop Tennant from making him remove the name of Williamson attorney Jonathan “Duke” Jewell, who is the choice of the county Democrat Executive Committee. In Thursday’s letter to Tennant, Hatfield pointed out that he had provided Tennant’s office with Jewell’s name “during the first week of August” recognizing the committee appointment.
“I am surprised that you say that the Secretary of State ‘had heard a rumor’ that I might place the vacancy … on the general election ballot,” Hatfield wrote in response to Tennant’s order. He went on to say that by providing the earlier letter to the secretary regarding Jewell, “Surely that is better than a ‘rumor.’”
Hatfield’s letter was actually addressed to E. Ashley Summitt, general counsel for the Secretary of State.
“Anyone, even a non-lawyer like me, can read 3-5-19(7)(b) of the West Virginia Code that says that if there is a vacancy 84 days before the general election, that the people get to decide,” Hatfield wrote. “Read it again. I suggest you will understand why I will ask the court to order you to let the good people of Mingo County decide and have a say in who will be their Family Court judge come Nov. 4.”
Earlier in the day, Hatfield said he received a copy of the proof of the November ballot from printer Casto & Harris of Spencer. “It did not list the Family Court judge as I instructed them to do,” he said. “We may have to find another printer.”
A call to White was not immediately returned Thursday but Hatfield said he expected his attorney to appear in court “tomorrow or Monday. If the judge will hear it, we’ll get this out of the way quick.”