CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The four candidates for two seats on West Virginia's Supreme Court differ on how to respond to criticism of the state's judicial system from some business groups and others, each told The Associated Press.
Justice Robin Davis, the sole incumbent running, believes West Virginia's sole appeals court has improved greatly since she was first elected in 1996. Her fellow Democrat, recent State Bar President Tish Chafin, has proposed ways to make judicial officials more accountable.
Among the Republican nominees, Circuit Judge John Yoder advocates nonpartisan elections and an intermediate appeals court to address concerns. The GOP's Allen Loughry, a longtime Supreme Court law clerk, fears the judiciary is haunted by a legacy of West Virginia political corruption he chronicled in a recent book.
What voters decide in November will have a lasting impact on the Supreme Court, which is comprised of five justices. Both seats on the ballot are up for a full, 12-year term.
Davis argued the court has answered its critics, particularly within the last several years. She cited the domestic violence registry and the database tracking child abuse and neglect cases, initiatives she credits from her time as chief justice. She said the recent opening of a special court in Martinsburg devoted to resolving business disputes is the latest attempt to be responsive.
But Davis considers the 2010 revamping of the rules for handling appeals the court's most momentous change. A pair of large jury verdicts last decade against corporations, upheld without written decisions, helped fuel complaints from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and others that parties could not pursue full and fair appeals in West Virginia. Among other changes, the revised rules require a written opinion explaining the court's ruling on every appeal.
Davis believes voters have noticed the court's efforts.
"They're very pleased with the approach our court is taking," Davis said. "We've made it very clear that we are a very fair court, that we don't have any hidden agendas. We simply follow the rule of law."