CHARLESTON – The first candidates for nomination for seats on the new West Virginia Intermediate Court of Appeals include former circuit judges, family court judges, prosecutors, public defenders, lawyers and even a disgraced former social security judge.
Gov. Jim Justice’s Vacancies Advisory Board met behind closed doors on Thursday and Friday to consider 29 candidates for the new appeals court. While CIA judges will be elected by registered voters in West Virginia going forward to 10-year terms, the first three judges are to be appointed. These judges will serve staggered terms, with one term in election in 2024, one term in 2026 and one term in 2028.
Senate Bill 275, passed by the West Virginia legislature in the 2021 session, created a three-judge intermediate court of appeals between the circuit courts and the Supreme Court. The new court will begin on July 1, 2022.
The new court will hear non-criminal appeals from circuit court cases, family court cases, guardianship and trusteeship cases, appeals from decisions of administrative law judges and final orders and decisions of the health authority of State.
The Intermediate Court also replaces the Workmen’s Compensation Office of Administrative Judges with a Workmen’s Compensation Review Board, whose decisions can be appealed to the Intermediate Court.
JVAC members will need to comb through the resumes and qualifications of the 29 applicants, all of whom come from a variety of legal backgrounds.
FROM THE BENCH
Six nominees currently include family court judges and three former circuit court judges.
Ã¶ Jim Douglas has served as a Family Court Judge serving the 11th Circuit of the Kanawha County Family Court since his election in 2016. Douglas maintained his own law firm for a time and was also a County District Attorney for Braxton from 1985 to 1988. Douglas ran for a seat on the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeal in 2018 and 2020.
* Darren Tallman is a Family Court Judge who sits on the 3rd Circuit Family Court in Pleasants and Wood Counties. He was first elected in 2002. A former County District Attorney, Tallman has served as a judge of the Wood County Juvenile Drug Court since 2010. His previous service includes a stint as Commissioner of Mental Hygiene and the Defense Office of West Virginia children in the 1990s.
* Deanna Ray Rock is a Family Court Judge for the 23rd Hampshire, Mineral and Morgan Counties Judicial Circuit. She was elected to the seat in 1996. Prior to serving on the bench, Rock was a lawyer from 2003 to 2016, and she also graduated in nursing.
* James L. Rowe is a retired Circuit Court Judge for the 11th Judicial Circuit in Greenbrier and Pocahontas Counties. Rowe continues to serve as senior judge, a category of retired judges who fill temporary vacancies or are appointed to oversee certain cases. Rowe retired from the bench in 2016 after serving as a judge for 20 years. He was appointed to the bench by former Governor Gaston Caperton in 1997.
* Dan Greear is a former circuit court judge of the 13th Kanawha County Judicial Circuit. Chief of Staff to former Speaker of the House and current State Supreme Court Justice Tim Armstead, Greear was appointed Judge by Judge in 2019 to fill a vacancy due to the retirement of Justice James Stucky. He ran for office but was defeated by lawyer Tera Salango in 2020. Greear returned to the House of Delegates as an adviser to House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay. Greear was also an unsuccessful Republican candidate for state attorney general in 2008.
* Debra Scudiere is a former Circuit Judge for the 17th Monongalia County Judicial Circuit. She was appointed by the court in 2019 to fill the post left vacant by Judge Russell M. Clawges Jr. when he retired. She ran for office and was defeated by former Assistant County Attorney and University of West Virginia attorney Cindy Scott in 2020. During her brief tenure, Scudiere was appointed by the court Supreme State in the Mass Litigation Group. Prior to her judicial appointment, Scudiere was an attorney with the Kay Casto & Chaney law firm.
A candidate for the ICA made the national news a few years ago for the quality of his decisions and his sleep at work.
Harry C. Taylor II is a Charleston-based lawyer. At one point, Taylor served as an administrative judge for the Office of Arbitration and Disability Review at the Social Security Administration. Taylor gained notoriety after being accused of approving disability claims.
According to a 2014 report by the United States House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Taylor had a 94% disability approval rating and 68% of his decisions were made without holding a hearing. . According to the report, Taylor granted about $ 2.5 billion in Social Security benefits between 2005 and 2013.
“An internal review found that the majority of ALJ Taylor’s decisions contained expert medical assessments that were inconsistent with his final findings of disability,” read a summary of the report’s findings.
According to the report, Taylor’s suspension was recommended twice, including a 14-day suspension in 2011 after colleagues complained that Taylor fell asleep.
“In addition to the multiple allegations of misconduct, ALJ Taylor slept at work and during hearings on several occasions,” the report continued. âFour years after the first documented allegation that ALJ Taylor was sleeping at work, he was finally sanctionedâ¦ However, ALJ Taylor continued to violate agency policies and was recommended for another suspension in April 2013. More d A year later, the recommendation for his suspension is still pending and ALJ Taylor continues to adjudicate a large number of cases.
Taylor and other administrative law judges mentioned in the report appeared before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in 2014. According to written testimony, Taylor rejected the report’s accusations.
âI have always been motivated by work. With very few hobbies except my children’s, my dedication and attention has always been on my working days, nights and even weekends, âTaylor wrote. “They say I’m a ‘workacholic (sic).’ “
It is not known when Taylor left the Social Security Administration or what Taylor has done since, although he remains an active member of the bar. Taylor also ran unsuccessfully in the 2018 special election for state Supreme Court justice.
MAKE THEIR CASE
Several candidates have experience as county attorneys, assistant attorneys and attorneys general of the United States, or lawmakers who have contributed to the development of the penal code.
* Putnam County District Attorney Mark A. Sorsaia has served as his county’s chief prosecutor since being elected in 1996, as Deputy District Attorney in 1988. Now in his seventh term, Sorsaia has also run unsuccessfully for the post. of governor in the 2011 Republican special primary elections. Sorsaia is a past vice-president of the West Virginia Association of Counties, served on the board of directors of the West Virginia Prosecuting Attorneys Association, and was chairman of the executive committee of the West Virginia Prosecuting Attorneys Institute.
* S. Benjamin Bryant, a lawyer with the Charleston law firm of Carey, Douglas, Kessler and Ruby, has been a former Assistant United States Attorney for 11 years. He was also a clerk for Charles H. Haden II, United States District Court Judge for the Southern and Northern Districts of West Virginia between 1975 and 2004. Bryant joined Carey, Scott, Douglas & Kessler in 2005.
* Donald A. Nickerson Jr. is a lawyer with the Spillman Thomas and Battle law firm in Wheeling and was elected to the Ohio County Commission in 2019. Nickerson is also vice president and trust manager for WesBanco Bank and United Bank, Inc. Nickerson has judicial experience, having served as a judge of the Wheeling Municipal Court between 1999 and 2019. He also worked as a Trustee Trustee in Ohio County between 1999 and 2004. From 1990 to 1992, Nickerson served as assistant attorney general in Ohio and general counsel for Ohio. Ministry of Natural Resources.
Rounding out the roster of candidates with previous prosecution experience or elected office include: Edward Ryan Kennedy, a Littler CaseSmart lawyer, a member of the Clarksburg city council and a former mayor of Clarksburg; Charleston attorney John J. Balenovich, former Kentucky Commonwealth Deputy Attorney from 2008 to 2018; Gregory Alan Tucker, lawyer in Summersville, former State Senator for the 11th Senate District and Deputy Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee; and Crystal L. Walden of Charleston, director of defense utilities.
Other CIA candidates include: Lewisburg lawyers Robert J. Frank and Christine B. Stump; Chester’s lawyer Joseph L. Ludovici; Madison’s attorney, Howard R. Nolen; Ronald Reece, native of Terra Alta, Administrative Law Judge for the West Virginia Public Employees Grievance Board; Bridgeport lawyer Jenna L. Robey; Thomas E. Scarr, attorney at Jenkins Fenstermaker law firm in Huntington; Mychal Sommer Schulz, lawyer at Baust Calland law firm in Charleston; Hamlin’s attorney, William J. Stevens; Charleston lawyer Keith Bryant Walker and Wheeling lawyer Martin P. Sheehan.