Former West Virginia Supreme Court justice wants back on the bench

The current justices on the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals from left to right: Margaret Workman, Evan Jenkins, Beth Walker, John Hutchison, and Tim Armstead.
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A former West Virginia Supreme Court justice intends to run for the bench again.

Richard Neely, an attorney and former chief justice on the state Supreme Court of Appeals, said the current court system in West Virginia "is in shambles" as he announced his bid for the 2020 court seat. Neely was first elected to the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals in 1972. He served a 12-year term and was re-elected in 1984.

Neely is running for the seat currently held by Justice Tim Armstead.

"The West Virginia court system, wracked as it has been by scandal, is in shambles," states a press release from Neely for Judge Committee. "Courts are designed to protect the weak from the strong. When the system doesn't work, or when it works perversely and helps the strong exploit the weak (e.g., mandatory arbitration in consumer contracts) ordinary workers take a beating. It is the job of Supreme Court judges to assure that the mechanics of the system do not defeat the object of the system."

There was a high-profile scandal in 2018 when the House of Delegates voted to impeach four of West Virginia's Supreme Court justices over office renovations that evolved into accusations of corruption and neglect of duty.

Neely did not dig into the 2018 impeachment proceedings in his announcement press release, but rather focused on past court rulings and the future of the court system.

"In 2010, the Court, in contravention of the clear language of Art. 8 §4 of our Constitution, replace the discretionary appeal system with a full appear in every frivolous case," a press release from his campaign states. "This occurred at the behest of the Chamber of Commerce and the Insurance Industry and, to the great advantage of these two entities, has had the effect of clogging the system and forcing smaller settlements."

He also mentioned a ruling in November of 2018 "that limits the ability of miners with Black Lung to file workers compensation claims." He said the ruling is an example of "the court system working perversely."

"The new majority on the Court threw out decades of settled law in a ruling that turns on its head the notion that courts protect the weak from the strong," the press release states. "Finally, in the next 12 years, rapidly advancing automation will wreak havoc on our labor law. Judges must make sure that workers' interests are protected, and steady employment is secure in the wake of machines' becoming better at performing human tasks. California has led the way in this regard by dramatically reducing the number of persons who are forced into a 'gig' economy. In West Virginia, the courts can do much to protect workers."

Neely served on the high court from 1973 to 1995. His two terms included multiple stints as chief justice.

The justice retired in 1995 as chief justice. After leaving the bench, he opened a private law practice, Neely & Callaghan, in Charleston.

Before his time as a judge, Neely represented Marion County in the West Virginia House of Delegates for one term -- 1971 to 1973.

Here's more background on the 2018 impeachment scandal:

  • Justices Allen Loughry, Margaret Workman, Robin Davis, and Beth Walker are accused of wasting millions of dollars in taxpayer money on "lavish" and "unnecessary" spending.

  • Former Chief Justice Allen Loughry is currently in prison. He was convicted in October of 2018 on 11 criminal counts in connection with finances involving the state Supreme Court and Loughry's personal use of state property. In addition to a two-year prison sentence, he also agreed to be disbarred and never seek another public office for the rest of his life. Loughry also agreed to pay more than $5,000 to the disciplinary counsel for the cost of the investigation, along with a $3,000 fine.

  • The impeachments did not include former West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Menis E. Ketchum. He resigned a day before the impeachment proceedings began. Ketchum pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud in August of 2018, but avoided prison time and was sentenced to three years of probation, ordered to pay $749.77 in restitution to the state, and fined $20,000.

  • Former Justice Robin Davis also avoided impeachment by retiring on Aug. 13 -- the same day the House voted to impeach.

  • Justice Margaret Workman successfully halted the remaining impeachment proceedings. She and Justice Beth Walker, the current chief justice, remain on the bench.

The state Senate asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the ruling that halted the impeachments. However, the justices decided not to intervene in the case.

Justices Walker and Workman currently serve alongside Justice Tim Armstead, Justice Evan Jenkins, and Justice John Hutchison.