GOP Candidates Make Their Case

WHEELING – Voters questioned Republican state Supreme Court candidates Wednesday in the first of a series of GOP political forums in Wheeling.

The “A Penny for Your Thoughts” series kicked off at ArtWorks Around Town in Centre Market with candidates John Yoder of Harpers Ferry and Allen Loughry of Charleston.

The next forum in the series, a town hall with Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Maloney, is set for 6 p.m. today at ArtWorks.

Loughry – an employee of the state Supreme Court – did not appear in person in Wheeling Wednesday, but instead addressed the small group present via a video conferencing connection. He is the only candidate for the Supreme Court participating in a pilot program that provides public money to Supreme Court candidates, and he is involved in a case now before the court pertaining to the program.

Loughry already has received $400,000 in public funds, but the West Virginia Election Commission has opted against providing him additional dollars if his opponents outspend him. Loughry is suing to obtain the funding, and briefs needed for a federal case had to be filed by midnight Wednesday, he said.

“Sorry I’m not there, but it’s an unbelievable situation,” he said from Charleston. “The Northern Panhandle is critical to this election, and is important to me.”

New Martinsville lawyer H. John Rogers – who ran for the state Supreme Court as a Democrat this year – was among those present. He said Loughry has been a Democrat, an Independent and now a Republican during his career. He pressed Loughry on whether funds he raised as a candidate prior to this year’s primary were raised when he was registered as an Independent or as a Republican.

Loughry assured Rogers he followed the law in his fundraising.

Yoder, a circuit court judge in Morgan and Jefferson counties, said as a former state senator, he understands judges shouldn’t legislate from the bench. He praised former Justice Joseph Albright – himself a former state lawmaker – as someone who understood the separate roles of the court and the Legislature.

“Since he left, there is nobody who has been a legislator on the court,” Yoder said. “There have been many laws in front of me that I disagreed with and voted against as a senator. However, I realize as a judge that even though I voted against a law, it is my role to enforce the law.”

Dr. George “Jeep” Naum of Wheeling asked the candidates their thoughts on whether medical malpractice caps imposed by the West Virginia Legislature in 2005 should be overturned by the court.

The candidates said judicial rules prohibit them from speaking on upcoming cases, but Yoder said he did have a record as a legislator as voting for tort reform bills.

“We had to do something,” he said. “Doctors were leaving the state.”