Starcher Made a Very Wise Decision

West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Larry Starcher has chosen the Christmas season to spare himself some unpleasantness next year. He announced this week, through a press release issued by the court, that he will not run for re-election next year.

That was not entirely unexpected. It does complicate the race for two seats on the state’s highest court, however.

A Starcher bid for re-election would have, in my opinion, been the best Christmas gift ever for the one Republican who has announced that she is running for the Supreme Court. She is Elizabeth D. Walker, of South Charleston.

Why? Starcher is an incumbent with excellent name recognition. He would have had the support of organized labor. A shoo-in, right?

Wrong. One of Starcher’s chums, former Justice Warren McGraw, lost his bid for re-election in 2004 largely on the strength of the Tony Arbaugh case. Arbaugh, you may remember, is the convicted sex offender who in 2004 asked to be placed in a treatment program here in the Northern Panhandle. We broke the story that the high court, with McGraw voting in favor, approved the plan for Arbaugh. The kicker was that the proposal was to place Arbaugh as a custodian in a local Catholic school.

School officials were just as horrified by that idea as anyone else. When the story broke, they were quick to stress that they wouldn’t have even thought of accepting Arbaugh as a school custodian.

But the idea apparently sounded good to McGraw, and it helped to defeat him. Justice Brent Benjamin thumped him and took a seat on the court.

Remember, however, that it takes at least three to tango, so to speak, when the five-member state Supreme Court issues a ruling. You guessed it: Starcher was in the majority, along with McGraw, in approving the plan for Arbaugh. Justice Joseph Albright also was in the majority.

Starcher’s concurrence in the Arbaugh ruling would have made him an excellent target for Walker.

I had speculated earlier this year that Starcher would not run if he believed that another Democrat with view similar to his would take a shot at the high court post. The short announcement released by the court seems to confirm that. In it, Starcher comments that “there are several good candidates who have expressed interest in running for the court in 2008.”

Starcher’s idea of “good candidates” wouldn’t include Walker, of course. Democrats who have filed pre-candidacy papers to run for the court include former Justice Margaret Workman, WVU Professor Robert M. Bastress Jr., Charleston attorney Michael Allen and Huntington attorney Menis E. Ketchum, reportedly a personal friend of Starcher.

And, oh, yes, there’s another candidate — incumbent Justice Elliott “Spike” Maynard.

There is no love lost between Maynard and Starcher. Both are Democrats, yet, in discussing his decision not to run, Starcher told a Charleston reporter that his advice to voters in the high court race is not to vote for an incumbent.

Well, now. Maynard, just finishing his first term on the court, has been an excellent justice. Both Democrats and Republicans seem to like his approach to the law — which is, in effect, that the law is the law. Judges and justices shouldn’t usurp the role of legislators in making laws, Maynard believes.

That, of course, is just what we need on the state’s highest court. Despite Starcher’s enmity, Maynard should — and will — win re-election.

Need any more reason to vote for him? Remember the Arbaugh case? Of those then on the court, McGraw, Starcher and Albright voted in favor of sending Arbaugh to work in a school here in the Northern Panhandle.

Maynard and Justice Robin Jean Davis voted against the plan, dissenting strongly.

The question for voters, then, is simple: Do we want someone who thinks like Larry Starcher, or a justice in the mold of Maynard, Davis and Benjamin? Seems simple enough to me.

Myer can be reached via e-mail at m’>’>