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Four judges appointed as justices to hear petition seeking to block Jenkins, Armstead

Circuit judges Russell Clawges, Timothy Sweeney, H. Charles Carl and R. Craig Tatterson have been appointed to hear a court challenge involving the appointments of Tim Armstead and Evan Jenkins to serve as interim West Virginia Supreme Court justices and to remove Jenkins' name from the ballot as a candidate for a court seat. (West Virginia Judiciary Website)

Four West Virginia circuit judges have been appointed as justices to hear a petition filed with the West Virginia Supreme Court that seeks to block Evan Jenkins and Tim Armstead from being appointed to fill two vacant seats on the court and to remove Jenkins’ name from the ballot in November.

An administrative order filed by the court Tuesday said Chief Justice Paul Farrell appointed the following four judges as justices to hear the case:

* Judge Russell Clawges, 17th Judicial Circuit (Monongalia County)

* Judge Timothy Sweeney, Third Judicial Circuit (Doddridge, Pleasant and Ritchie counties)

* Judge H. Charles Carl, 23rd Judicial Circuit (Hampshire, Hardy and Pendleton counties)

* Judge R. Craig Tatterson, Fifth Judicial Circuit (Calhoun, Jackson and Roane counties)

Arguments in the case will be heard at 10 a.m. Monday, Sept. 24. The case has been consolidated with an earlier challenge to Jenkins and Armstead filed by Wayne King.

Attorney William Schwartz of Charleston, a candidate for the six-year term on the court, filed the petition Sept. 13. The petition is filed against Jenkins, Armstead, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice and Secretary of State Mac Warner. Farrell appointed four judges to hear the case after Justices Margaret Workman and Beth Walker recused themselves from participating in the case. Workman and Walker face impeachment trials in the state Senate along with suspended Justice Allen Loughry and former justice Robin Davis.

On Aug. 25, Justice appointed Armstead and Jenkins to fill vacancies created by the retirements of Menis Ketchum and Robin Davis as justices. They would serve in those posts until new justices are chosen in the Nov. 6 General Election.

Armstead is a candidate for the two-year term left vacant by Ketchum’s retirement, and Jenkins is a candidate for the six-year term left vacant by Davis’ retirement. A total of 20 candidates – 10 in each race – are running for the Supreme Court seats.

The petition filed by Schwarz said Jenkins should be disqualified from the ballot for election to the Supreme Court because the West Virginia Constitution requires a candidate to be admitted to practice law in West Virginia for the decade prior to the election. Jenkins’ was inactive for four of the last 10 years, the petition said.

Meanwhile, the petition said Jenkins and Armstead’s appointments to the court to serve in the interim positions violate the state constitution “by abrogating the clear will of the voters and similarly deny equal protection to those who voted to elect three Democrats.”

After the petition was filed, Jenkins released the following statement:

“Both suits are nothing more than a desperate, partisan effort to keep me from restoring honesty, integrity and accountability to our state’s highest court. I’m ready to get to work to bring the change every proud West Virginian deserves and demands. These bogus lawsuits are simply an effort to cover up for the outrageous spending and misuse of taxpayer money we’re all mad as heck about and to score political points for another candidate’s own campaign simply trying to get his name in the news.”

The party switch by the governor, coupled with the appointments, are the filling of elected seats through means other than election and result in three conservative Republicans in office where Democrats were elected “by the people at the last authorized election,” the petition said.

Schwartz also argues in his petition that Armstead’s appointment is improper because he, as a sitting delegate, voted to investigate and impeach the entire court, creating two vacancies and then resigned to run for one of the vacancies he helped create. Armstead’s base salary would go from $30,000 to $140,000 per year, the petition said.

“Such enrichment created by his vote on impeachment is specifically prohibited by the emoluments clause and can only be cleansed through the will of the voters,” the petition said.

On Aug. 21, Armstead resigned as House speaker and as a Kanawha County delegate so he could run for Supreme Court.

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