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Armstead Named New Incoming Chief Justice for 2020

Justice Tim Armstead speaks at a Drug Court graduation at the Kanawha County Courthouse on Oct. 17.

CHARLESTON — Justice Tim Armstead — of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, who won a special election a year ago and is up for re-election in 2020 — will take the reins as chief justice starting in 2020.

The court, which announced Armstead’s appointment in a press release Monday morning, made its decision during its monthly administrative conference Oct. 28.

Speaking by phone Monday, Armstead said he appreciated the confidence his fellow justices expressed in their vote for him to lead the court next year.

“I’m very honored to be able to take on this role and excited about it,” Armstead said.

Armstead will succeed Chief Justice Beth Walker, the only justice acquitted of an article of impeachment after four justices were impeached last year in the wake of a scandal precipitated by former Chief Justice Allen Loughry, his misuse of his office for personal gain and the mismanagement of the court itself.

“I think we’ve accomplished a lot over the last year with Chief Walker’s leadership — and the court has worked well together, too — to start the process of restoring competence in the court,” Armstead said.

“The new court has worked successfully as a team this year, and I know that cooperation and collegiality will continue,” Walker said in a statement. “I am grateful to my colleagues for the opportunity to serve as Chief Justice and am confident that our important work to safeguard the integrity of our judiciary will continue under Justice Armstead’s leadership.”

Despite being the only justice censured by the state Senate, Walker used the last 10 months to put in place reforms on how the court makes budgets, spends money, and she made improvements to transparency. Armstead said he plans to continue the reforms started by Walker.

“Our court is more open, more transparent, and has reached out to our state more than any time that I’m aware of in the court’s history,” Armstead said.

“I think that’s one of the things that I want to continue is to build upon that work, and I’m excited to work with my fellow justices to do that.”

Over the last year, Armstead has worked with the court to improve its relationship with the Legislature, particularly when it comes to the court’s budget. An amendment to the state Constitution passed last year giving the Legislature more say over the judiciary system’s budget — including circuit and family courts, magistrates, probation and many other agencies. That law goes into effect in 2020 and Armstead plans to work with lawmakers to ensure the court system has the funding it needs.

“I’m excited to work with the Legislature ensuring we have a good, solid, efficient budget that respects the taxpayers in terms of their hard-earned money,” Armstead said.

One area where Armstead plans to focus is the growing caseload of neglect and abuse cases for children. According to the court’s caseload statistics, the Supreme Court saw a 7 percent increase in new neglect and abuse cases between 2017 and 2018. According to Department of Health and Human Resources data, foster care placements have increased by 67 percent between 2011 and 2019. Armstead wants to reverse these numbers and also find ways to keep families together when possible.

“It is certainly a priority for this court, and it will be a priority for the year that I’m chief justice for us to ensure that our children have safe healthy homes to go to each evening,” Armstead said. “That’s going to be one of the priorities that I want to work on over this next year is how can we make that process work better? How can we ensure that each of our children have that opportunity to grow in a healthy and safe home? I think there are some exciting opportunities in that area that we can look at over the next year.”

The court also announced a return to a rotating chief justice position, which will change each year starting with Armstead on Jan. 1. Justice Evan Jenkins will be chief justice starting in 2021.

Until 2017, chief justices were selected annually by a vote of all the justices with rarely any one justice serving two years in a row. That changed with Loughry, when the court voted to make the chief justice a four-year term and allowed a chief justice to serve more than one term.

A former 20-year member of the House of Delegates representing the Elkview area in Kanawha County, Armstead was the minority leader for House Republicans starting in 2006, but was elected in 2015 as the first Republican House speaker in 84 years after Republicans won a majority in the 2014 elections.

Armstead and Jenkins, who was the 3rd District U.S. representative, were appointed by Gov. Jim Justice in August 2018 to fill vacancies left behind by former justices Menis Ketchum and Robin Davis, respectively. Armstead and Jenkins both won special elections in November 2018 to complete the 12-year terms, with Armstead up for re-election in May. Jenkins will be up for re-election in 2024.

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