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Candidates for Open West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Seat Announced

CHARLESTON – Members of the special advisory committee will interview nine applicants over the next several weeks to fill the vacancy left behind when former West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals chief justice Evan Jenkins resigned earlier this year.

The state Judicial Vacancy Advisory Commission released the names of the applicants Friday. Once the JVAC conducts interviews, the commission will submit three names for Gov. Jim Justice to appoint to the seat.

By law, the appointee would serve until a special election could be called in November alongside the 2022 general election for voters to select a candidate to fill the remainder of the 12-year term up in 2024. But a bill passed during the 2022 legislative session and expected to be signed by Justice would allow the appointment to serve until the 2024 regular election for the seat.

Applicants include:

* C. Haley Bunn is a Charleston-based attorney for the Steptoe and Johnson law firm since 2019. Bunn returned to Steptoe and Johnson after working for the firm between 2010 and 2012. In between, Bunn worked seven years as an Assistant U.S attorney for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia.

* Nicole Cofer is a traffic safety resource attorney for the West Virginia Prosecuting Attorneys Institute. Since 2020, Cofer has provided legal and technical advice to law enforcement agencies, specifically dealing with DUI cases. She held a similar role with the Kanawha County Prosecutor’s Office from 2017 to 2020, and 10 years with the West Virginia Attorney General’s Office.

* Gregory Howard Jr. is a circuit court judge serving the 6th Judicial Circuit in Cabell County. He was elected in 2016. Previously, Howard was a partner in the law firm Bailey and Howard starting in 2004, chief legal counsel to former Republican Secretary of State Betty Ireland, and a two-term member of the West Virginia House of Delegates.

* Charles Lorensen is an attorney with Kay, Casto and Chaney. He was the former chief of staff to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin from 2012 to 2012. He served two stints as a cabinet secretary for the state Department of Revenue, first from 1989 to 1990, and from 2011 to 2012. Lorensen also served as the State Tax Commissioner. After leaving government service in 2016, Lorensen worked as an attorney for Stonerise Healthcare.

* Kristina “Kris” Raynes is an assistant prosecuting attorney in Putnam County and a previous candidate for the state Supreme Court. Raynes has worked for the Putnam County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office for 12 years. Before that, Raynes was an assistant U.S. Attorney and an attorney in the Summit County, Ohio, prosecutor’s office. Raynes came in third in the 2020 election to sitting Supreme Court Justice William Wooten.

* James L. Rowe is a retired circuit court judge for the 11th Judicial Circuit in Greenbrier and Pocahontas counties. Rowe continues to serve as a senior status judge, a category of retired judges who fill temporary vacancies or are appointed to oversee certain cases. Rowe retired from the bench in 2016 after serving as a judge for 20 years. He was appointed to the bench by former governor Gaston Caperton in 1997.

* Putnam County Prosecuting Attorney Mark A. Sorsaia has served as his county’s top attorney since his 1996 election, serving as an assistant prosecuting attorney in 1988. Now in his seventh term, Sorsaia has also ran unsuccessfully for governor in the 2011 special Republican primary election.

* Joanna Tabit is a circuit court judge for the 13th Judicial Circuit in Kanawha County, the largest circuit in the state. Tabit was appointed as a circuit judge by Tomblin in 2014. Tabit clerked for former Supreme Court Justice Thomas McHugh. She also was a state assistant attorney general from 1989 to 1992, serving two attorneys general before joining the Steptoe and Johnson law firm in 1992. She came in second to Wooten in the 2020 election.

Other applicants include Lewisburg attorney Robert Frank.

Jenkins announced in February he would step down from the high court. A former state lawmaker and member of the U.S. House of Representatives. he was appointed to the Supreme Court by Justice in 2018, replacing Robin Davis who resigned after being named in several articles of impeachment by the House of Delegates. He later won a special election for the seat.

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