Interview with Bill Wooten-Candidate for the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals-Division 2

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Richard:  Good afternoon, and welcome to this edition of the Richard Urban Show. We present news and views from God’s point of view. Today, May 29, we’re very happy to have Bill Wooten on. He’s running for the Supreme Court of Appeals in Division 2. So please introduce yourself.

“Thank you Richard. My name is Bill Wooten I’m a small town lawyer, in Beckley and I’m a candidate for the Supreme Court of Appeals.”

Richard:  What are the main reasons you’re running for the Supreme Court of Appeals? Why did you decide at this time to run?

“Primarily I’m running because I sincerely believe I am the best qualified candidate for the job. I think I can be of real service to my fellow West Virginians by serving on the Supreme Court.”

“Now, to add more to that, my first job out of law school was law for to the Honorable John A. Field Jr., he was a judge of United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the fourth circuit. That’s one level before the US Supreme Court. Judge Field is one of my heroes. He’s the hero of lot of people that have come into contact with him. And I think, like a lot of people, you want to grow up to be like your hero, and he was the judge.”

“So that early on, gave me a start. But as a lawyer practicing law for a long time, I’m aware of how the court works. I’ve dealt with the court on a lot of occasions, and I sincerely believe that I have the ideal qualification, to serve effectively on the court and if I may, I’d like to add to that.”

“I think the Supreme Court is a scholarly operation. Trial court judges deal with witnesses and objections and factual questions. The Supreme Court is more scholarly. It just reviews written records of hearings. It reviews written arguments and briefs. It does listen to oral arguments, but the oral arguments all relate to some proceeding that occurred at a lower level. So it’s really more an academic exercise than a trial court. Academically, I’ve got, I’m confident, the most outstanding record of any candidate in division 2. I was editor in chief of the law review, graduated at the top of my class, Order of the Coif.”

“So I think I have the qualifications, but more important than academics, I have a breadth of experience that no other candidate has. I have been involved in virtually every type of legal proceeding that’s possible for a West Virginia lawyer to be involved in. one of the other candidates is a prosecutor, has been, I believe, a prosecutor, that’s the only job that that candidate has ever had. Well, I spent a few years as a prosecutor and gained a lot of experience there.”

Richard: Have you served on a bench position before, or are most of your experiences are as a prosecutor or practicing private law?

“The experience that gives me the greatest advantage for Supreme Court is all from practicing law. Because I’ve involved in literally every type of legal proceeding that you have that you could do in West Virginia. Now, I don’t have significant bench experience. I was a municipal judge, which gives you a little bit of insight, but just taste of it. I think judicial experience is important. I think I gained comparable experience, I served 10 years in the legislature, as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.”

Richard:  regarding the impeachment proceedings in 2018 at the Supreme Court of Appeals, do you think that the legislature overstepped its authority or do you have an opinion on that?

“I believe in the separation of powers, and I believe the legislature has the absolute ability to impeach a Circuit Judge or a Supreme Court justice in fact any public official, at the state level. And I think that there were some significant Constitutional infirmities in the procedure followed by the legislature. I think they were pointed out, and clearly the legislature could have gone back and corrected those.”

Richard:  I saw in the West Virginia Court election site, you mentioned that “a Supreme Court justice must not be dogmatic. A rigid and inflexible pattern of thinking would prevent a justice from grasping new arguments, or novel applications of various legal principles.”
I was wondering if you want to expand on that. Sometimes you hear the term ‘strictly interpreting the constitution’ or strict construction or something like that. And I’m wondering if you want to explain a little more what you meant. You said you’re opened to novel interpretations. How does that kind of juxtapose with the idea of strictly following the Constitution?

“Let we tell you what I was trying to get to. I’m a practicing attorney and I don’t mean to be disrespectful of any judges.  But there are some judges I’ve dealt with that have been on the bench especially a long time. People my age, if you will, and they’re what I would call, dogmatic. They’ve heard everything they know everything. And don’t want to listen to you because they’ve heard everything. And sometimes I think as a jurist, you have an obligation to at least listen and consider what someone offers. That’s what I was trying to get to in the response you read.”

Richard:  Well in somewhat the same vein, would you care to elaborate on your judicial philosophy in the sense of your interpretation of the constitution. Would you consider yourself more strictly sticking to the constitution?   For instance I was reading one case of one of the judges that’s running. And I saw that in that case, without getting into exact details, he had a somewhat novel interpretation. I know different judges can interpret things in different ways. Would you want to talk about that general topic?

“First off I believe very strongly in the separation of powers, I think public policy in this state is made by the voters, the citizens, through their elective representatives in the legislature. I think the executive branch carries out those public policies I think the judicial branch, the third branch of our three type of government, the third leg of our triumvirate, if you will, its job is not to make public policy and not to execute public policy. I think the judicial branch’s job is to ensure that the public policy that’s embodied in law, is fairly and correctly applied.  Correctly, if it says something, that’s what you’ve got to do. You also, if constitutional arguments are raised, you have to ensure that the public policy embodied in the law, or the way it was enacted or enforced by the executive branch, is in compliance with the Constitution. You cannot deviate from the Constitution. But the court does not have the ability to rewrite the Constitution. Likewise it has no ability to rewrite statutes. If as a Justice I think this was a terrible idea, the legislature should not have done that.  I can have that as a private opinion, but as a justice my job is, does it conflict with the Constitution?  If not, was it correctly, and fairly applied?  If so, you uphold it.”

Richard:  I’m involved with youth education and helping to strengthen families. Some communities have community marriage policies. Different churches will get together and say, things like, Okay, if you like to be married then you should take some training, a class or course that we prescribe or we’re not going to marry you.    One of the cities is Kansas City, Kansas.   It’s not to say they can’t go elsewhere to be married. But I think these kinds of policies as far as I know, they have strengthened families and reduced divorce. So do you think that kind of approach generally, is that a good approach, bad approach, or do you have any opinion about it?

“I have no data for, what’s to determine if it works or not, I think, in my judgment, clearly the prerogative of the church if they want to do that. And if they do that, I would hope they would have some data that would support it.  And frankly, I would hope it worked.”

Richard:  it has work definitely to reduce divorce in communities where it’s in effect. So I think that’s a good thing.

“And in any community if you don’t want to get married in that church, you can always have a civil ceremony or go to a different church.”

Richard: Looking at the fact that you have three other opponents, how would you differentiate yourself versus the other opponents? Would you care to say about that?

“I’m the only veteran in the race. I’m the only person in the race who’s not on a public payroll.”

“I have more experience in more different areas of the law than any of the other candidates. One candidate’s experience is exclusively as a prosecutor. I’ve done that, but there’s a whole lot more to the law, than just being a prosecutor.”

“Another candidates’ focus is overwhelmingly in the area of domestic relations. I’ve done just about every type of domestic relations case you can do, but there’s a whole lot of the law, that’s beyond domestic relations. Another candidate’s practical experience as a lawyer is insurance defense work. I’ve done a little bit of that, mostly have been on the other side, but there’s a lot more to the law than just that.  To her credit, as circuit judge she’s been exposed to other areas, but I’ve done every possible thing that a lawyer in West Virginia can do. I think that breadth of experience is what really distinguishes me from the other candidates.”

Richard:  I think that’s a good summation unless there’s anything else you’d like to share. Any other thoughts you have, closing thoughts?

“One, I want to thank you for this opportunity and commend you on your preparation.  I didn’t realize you’d read all those questionnaires.   I’m impressed”

Richard:  thank you very much. Thank you for joining us today.

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