CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- For the second time this election cycle, a petition has been filed with the state Supreme Court asking the court to disqualify a candidate on the May primary ballot.
On Friday, an attorney for L. Joe Starcher, a private citizen, filed an emergency petition for a writ of mandamus to bar Sen. Walt Helmick, D-Pocahontas, from running for agriculture commissioner.
The petition filed by Charleston lawyer Christopher Pritt argues that Helmick does not meet the requirements in state law to serve as agriculture commissioner.
The 1911 law creating the office states that the commissioner shall be a "practical farmer learned in the science of agriculture, and shall have made agriculture his chief business for a period of 10 years immediately preceding his election."
According to his financial disclosure filed with the state Ethics Commission, Helmick's primary occupations are as state senator and owner of Allegheny Lodge LLC, a Pocahontas County company that produces bottled water and rents vacation cabins.
Helmick has said previously his attorneys have advised him the requirements are unenforceable under the legal doctrine of desuetude -- that laws that are not enforced for long periods of time no longer have the weight of law.
Helmick has stated that the current Commissioner Gus Douglas could not have served a total of 11 terms as commissioner under the letter of the law, since once elected, agriculture was no longer his chief business.
Helmick has also noted that, under a strict interpretation of the code, women could not serve as agriculture commissioner.
The petition, however, states that to establish desuetude there must be evidence of a "conspicuous policy of nonenforcement" of the law. It states that there is no evidence anyone ever challenged Douglas' qualifications to serve.
The petition asks the court to order Secretary of State Natalie Tennant to withdraw Helmick's certification of candidacy and declare him ineligible.
As with a similar petition asking the court to remove former Sen. Frank Deem, R-Wood, from the primary ballot as a state Senate candidate, Tennant said Friday she is neutral on the suit.
Tennant has said her office's authority is limited to verifying that a candidate has properly filed for office, not whether the individual is qualified to serve if elected.Reach Phil Kabler at ph...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.