W.Va. Supreme Court Division 2 Candidates, 10 Vie for One Seat

CHARLESTON — On Nov. 6, voters will get the opportunity to select a nonpartisan justice to sit on the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals until 2024.

Division 2 candidates come from a variety of legal and political backgrounds. The 10 who are running will fill the remainder of the term of the seat left vacant when former Justice Robin Davis resigned in August. Although Davis was elected as a Democrat, the seats have since lost their political affiliations.

Biographies of the Division 2 candidates follow.

Jim Douglas, of Charleston, is a Family Court judge serving the 11th Family Court Circuit in Kanawha County. He was born in Sutton and has lived in different parts of West Virginia.

He is a 1973 graduate of Morris Harvey College (renamed to the University of Charleston in 1978) and a 1975 graduate of West Virginia University. Douglas earned a master’s in German History and Literature before graduating from the WVU College of Law in 1977

Before returning to Charleston in 2004, Douglas maintained his own legal practice. He also served as the prosecuting attorney for Braxton County from 1985-88. In 2016, he decided to run for the 11th Family Court Circuit and took office Jan. 1, 2017.

Robert Frank, of Charleston, is an attorney based in Lewisburg. The son of an officer in the U.S. Navy, Frank was born in Ankara, Turkey, in 1965. He has a bachelor’s degree from Cornell University and graduated from the University of Iowa College of Law in 1990.

Before coming to West Virginia in 2008, Frank was one of the attorneys who worked on the wrongful death case of gangster rapper Christopher Wallace, known to his fans as the Notorious B.I.G. Wallace was murdered in a drive-by shooting in Los Angeles in 1997.

Frank’s legal focus is personal injury, civil and criminal defense. He was one of the names presented to Gov. Jim Justice by the Judicial Vacancy Advisory Commission to replace former Justice Menis Ketchum, who resigned July 27 and is awaiting sentencing for one federal charge of wire fraud.

Evan Jenkins, of Huntington, was appointed by Justice to fill the seat of Davis, who resigned Aug. 14 after being impeached by the House of Delegates. Jenkins will serve until voters choose a permanent successor for Division 2 on Nov. 6.

Jenkins is a former two-term Republican member of Congress and represented the 3rd District encompassing southern West Virginia. He ran for Supreme Court before in 2000. He has served in both the House of Delegates and state Senate and was a candidate for U.S. Senate in the May Republican primary. He came in second to Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.

He is a 1987 graduate of the Cumberland School of Law at Samford University. Jenkins also holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Florida. He started his legal career in 1988 at Jenkins Fenstermaker, a law firm in Huntington. He also served as executive director for the West Virginia State Medical Association.

Jeff Kessler, of Glen Dale, is a former president of the West Virginia Senate and candidate for governor. He was appointed to the Senate in 1997 by the late Gov. Cecil Underwood and won election in 1998.

After that, Kessler served four full terms in the senate and was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee before being elected by his fellow senators as president in 2010. He served until the Republican takeover in 2014 and spent the last two years of his final term as Senate minority leader. Instead of running for re-election in 2016, he ran for the Democratic Party nomination for governor and lost to Justice.

Kessler is a 1981 graduate of the WVU College of Law. He is the founding partner of the Berry, Kessler, Crutchfield, Taylor and Gordon law firm in Moundsville.

Brenden Long, of Hurricane, runs his own legal practice in Scott Depot, where he focuses family law, criminal law, personal injury, abuse and neglect cases.

Before starting his legal practice, Long was an assistant prosecuting attorney in Kanawha County. In 2006, he worked as a law clerk for the 13th Judicial Circuit in Kanawha County. Long is vice president of the Putnam County Criminal Justice Board and is a court-appointed guardian ad litem for cases involving children.

Long, a native of Pennsylvania, has a bachelor’s degree in accounting and finance from the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown. He is a 2005 graduate of the Duquesne University School of Law. Long is a member of the bar associations in West Virginia, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

Jim O’Brien, of Wheeling, is a founding partner of the Hartley and O’Brien law firm. He is a 1978 graduate of Wheeling Jesuit University and a 1981 graduate of the WVU College of Law.

Before starting his own firm, O’Brien worked as a law clerk at the U.S. District Court for Judge Charles Haden II in Parkersburg and as an assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia. He worked at the federal courthouses in Charleston and Huntington.

Before starting his own law firm in Wheeling, O’Brien worked for several law firms in Parkersburg and Wheeling. He is licensed to practice law in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Kentucky, as well as federal courts and the U.S. Supreme Court.

O’Brien has also been involved in real estate and has renovated two buildings in Wheeling.

William Schwartz, of Charleston, is an attorney with Harvit and Schwartz in Charleston. He focuses on personal injury and asbestos. He is a 1988 graduate of Washington and Lee University’s law school.

Schwartz was named as one of the Top 100 Lawyers in West Virginia by the National Trial Lawyers Association in the fields of asbestos and mesothelioma cases and has helped craft mesothelioma legislation. He also was named a “Litigation Star” by Benchmark Litigation. As a member of the West Virginia Association for Justice, he earned the President’s Award for advocacy work at the Legislature on behalf of victims’ rights.

In August, Schwartz challenged the eligibility of Evan Jenkins to be on the Nov. 6 ballot. Schwartz also challenged the eligibility of Jenkins and Tim Armstead to sit as temporary justices on the bench until the November elections. The West Virginia Supreme Court ruled against Schwartz.

Marty Sheehan, of Wheeling, is the founding member of the Sheehan and Nugent law firm where he focuses on bankruptcy law. He is a 1977 graduate of Duquesne University’s law school.

Sheehan, who is known as “Red Shoes,” is a former assistant U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of West Virginia. He played a role in sending Paul “No Legs” Hankish, a notorious Wheeling-area mob boss, to prison.

Sheehan was selected in 2015 by the National Academy of Criminal Defense Attorneys as one of the top 10 criminal defense attorneys in the nation. He has served as president for the National Board of Bankruptcy Trustees and lectures about bankruptcy law at WVU.

Sheehan was one of nine candidates who applied to the Judicial Vacancy Advisory Commission to fill the temporary appointment to replace Ketchum.

Dennise Smith, of Charleston, practices law at Spilman Thomas and Battle in Charleston. She focuses on workplace safety issues. She is a 1996 graduate of the WVU College of Law.

Smith, originally from Montgomery, has more than 20 years of civil and administrative litigation experience, including state and federal appellate work. Her specialization is employment and workplace law and she handles administrative cases before MSHA and OSHA.

Previously, Smith served as an assistant state attorney general under Attorney General Darrell McGraw. She also worked as a staff attorney for House of Delegates, where she worked on the House Judiciary Committee and the Constitutional Revision Committee. During her time at the Legislature, she helped draft legislation creating the state’s Family Court system.

William Thompson, of Madison, is a Circuit Court judge in the 23rd Judicial Circuit serving Boone and Lincoln counties. Thompson was appointed in 2007 by former Gov. Joe Manchin.

Thompson has earned notoriety as the judge for the the wrongful death case stemming from the Upper Big Branch mine disaster in 2010, as well as civil cases brought against pharmaceutical companies that distributed millions of prescription pain medications to southern West Virginia over the past decade. He oversees the adult drug courts in Boone and Lincoln counties and the juvenile drug court in Boone County.

He graduated from the WVU College of Law in 1995, and he also has bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from WVU. Before being appointed to the Circuit Court, Thompson was an attorney for the Cook and Cook law firm in Madison starting in 1995, as well as the mental hygiene commissioner for Boone County from 2003-07.