10 Seek Division 1 Supreme Court Seat
Candidates have a variety of political, legal backgrounds
CHARLESTON — Candidates running for the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Division 1 seat include former House of Delegates members and sitting judges, along with several others with a variety of political and legal backgrounds.
In all, 10 people will appear on the ballot for the Division 1 seat. They are running to replace the seat vacated by former Justice Menis Ketchum, who resigned in July. Ketchum has pled guilty to one federal count of wire fraud and is awaiting sentencing.
The person chosen Nov. 6 will serve Ketchum’s remaining term until 2020. Although Ketchum, a Democrat, was elected while the Supreme Court seat was partisan, the seat is now nonpartisan.
The candidates’ brief biographies follow.
Tim Armstead, of Elkview, was appointed as a temporary justice on the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals by Gov. Jim Justice and took his seat in September. He will serve until Nov. 6, when voters choose a new justice for Division 1.
Armstead is the former Republican speaker of the West Virginia House of Delegates and a 20-year member of House representing the 40th District in Kanawha County. He was elected speaker in 2015 after Republicans took the majority in the House. He declined to run for re-election to the House this year.
Armstead has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Charleston and is a graduate of the West Virginia University College of Law. He worked for the late Gov. Arch Moore as a press intern, and later as executive assistant in the administration of the late Gov. Cecil Underwood. Armstead has experience as a law clerk for U.S. District Judge David A. Faber. He most recently was an attorney in the natural gas industry.
Harry Bruner Jr., of Charleston, is a 1975 graduate of the West Virginia University College of Law. He also holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Charleston and a master’s degree from WVU.
He was most recently employed in the West Virginia Attorney General’s Office as an assistant attorney general. He also ran for U.S. Senate as a Republican. His legal career has included arguments in federal appellate courts. Bruner’s legal specialties include employment, tax, administrative, FOIA, grant, state purchasing, eminent domain and injunction.
During his time in state government, Bruner drafted new accountability and transparency standards for vendors doing business with the states.
Robert Carlton, of Williamson, is a bankruptcy and personal injury attorney with 29 years of experience. He is graduate of Oral Roberts University and received his law degree from the Regent University Law School in 1986. He also has a master’s degree in business administration from WVU.
Carlton has won two American Jurisprudence Awards for insurance law and wills, trusts and estates. He returned to Williamson after law school and opened up his own practice, where he focused on family law and defense.
Carlton served as an assistant prosecuting attorney in Mingo County from 1992-94. He also served as a child advocate attorney for Mingo and Logan counties from 1987-1990. He is a former mayor of Williamson. Carlton is admitted to state and federal courts in West Virginia, Kentucky and North Carolina.
Ronald Hatfield, of Huntington, is the local managing partner for Litchfield Cavo in Barboursville. He is a 2000 graduate of the WVU College of Law and also has degrees from Marshall University.
Hatfield is a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps and served in Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm. He returned to Cabell County and started his own law firm before joining Litchfield Cavo, a national firm with offices in 36 states.
His focus is commercial and business law with 18 years of courtroom experience.
Mark Hunt, of Charleston, is a former member of the House of Delegates representing the 36th district in Kanawha County.
He has served in the house off and on since 1995, and has been a candidate for West Virginia Senate and U.S. House of Representatives.
Hunt received bachelor’s degree from the University of Charleston in 1982 and a master’s degree from Marshall University in 1984.
He worked as an analyst for the West Virginia Legislature before graduating from the Columbia Law School in 1993. After law school, Hunt worked for the State Auditor’s Office.
Hunt co-founded the Hunt and Serreno law firm in 1994, and he practices law at Mark A. Hunt & Associates in Charleston. He focuses on personal injury, DUI defense, car wrecks and nursing home abuse.
Hiram Lewis IV, of Procious, is a 2001 graduate of the WVU Law School, a 2004 candidate for West Virginia attorney general and a 2006 candidate for U.S. Senate. He retired from the West Virginia National Guard in 2010.
During his time in the U.S Army and West Virginia National Guard, Lewis served three years with the 3rd Ranger Battalion at Fort Benning in Georgia. He joined the National Guard and became a Judge Advocate General officer stationed with the 111th Engineer Brigade during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Aside from his law degree, Lewis also holds degrees from WVU in finance, accounting and a master’s in athletic coaching. He is a former treasurer for the West Virginia Republican Party.
According to published reports, Lewis was acquitted in 2013 of malicious wounding and domestic assault for shooting a person who claimed to live with Lewis.
D.C. Offutt Jr., of Barboursville, is a managing member of the Offutt Nord Ashworth law firm in Huntington. He is a former deputy director of the former West Virginia Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. He is a 1978 graduate of the WVU College of Law.
Offutt has helped with judicial reform initiatives, including serving on the Commission on the Future of the West Virginia Judicial System from 1997-98. In 2000, he served on the state Supreme Court’s Pattern Jury Instructions Committee. Offutt was also president of the West Virginia State Bar, the state agency attorneys must join to practice law in West Virginia.
Joanna Tabit, of Charleston, is a Circuit Court judge for the 13th Judicial Circuit in Kanawha County, which is the largest Circuit Court system in the state. Tabit was appointed to that role by former Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin in 2014.
Tabit is a 1983 graduate of Marshall University and a 1986 graduate of the WVU College of Law. After law school, she clerked for former state Supreme Court Justice Thomas McHugh. She also worked as a state assistant attorney general from 1989-1992, serving two attorneys general before joining the Steptoe and Johnson law firm in 1992.
Tabit has chaired the Access to Justice Foundation, served as a member of Board of Governors of the West Virginia State Bar and served as a Commissioner on the City of Charleston Human Rights Commission. She is a member of the Juvenile Justice Commission and Mass Litigation Panel and is a former member of the Business Court. Tabit also presides over Kanawha County’s Juvenile Drug Court.
Chris Wilkes, of Martinsburg, has been a Circuit Court judge serving the 23rd Circuit in Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan counties since 1993. A 1982 graduate of the Ohio Northern University Pettit College of Law, Wilkes was a partner in his own law firm until being elected to the Circuit Court. He also has a political science degree from WVU.
Wilkes also served as a municipal judge in the cities of Martinsburg and Ranson starting in 1985 and helped develop of the West Virginia Business Court Division. He serves as its chairman. He has held multiple offices in the the West Virginia Judicial Association, including secretary, treasurer, vice president and immediate past president.
Wilkes is the chairman of the Youth Services Committee of the Court Improvement Board and is a member of the Juvenile Justice Commission. He has been appointed several times to sit as a temporary Justice on the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.
Jeff Woods, of Scott Depot, is a graduate of West Virginia State University with a degree in sociology and a 1979 graduate of Howard University School of Law.
During his career, Woods served as a legal clerk with the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals and was chosen as the acting director for the state’s Magistrate Court System.
Woods served in the U.S. Army as a 2nd lieutenant and entered active duty as a JAG officer with the 5th Infantry Division at Fort Polk and Louisiana in 1980. He later went to work for the Jackson Kelly law firm but remained a JAG officer in the West Virginia National Guard and U.S. Army Reserves with the rank of major.
After 25 years of work for Jackson Kelly, Woods retired and opened up his own law practice in Putnam County.