Ex-classmates vie for judge
HUNTINGTON — Longtime prosecutor Chris Chiles and local attorney Cheryl Henderson, classmates many years ago at Cammack Junior High and Huntington High, will face each other this spring in the Democratic primary for Cabell circuit judge.
They were the only candidates who filed for the office during a special two-week filing period that ended at 4:30 p.m. Monday, according to Cabell County Clerk Karen Cole. Both seek to fill the unexpired term of retired Judge David Pancake, who stepped down Jan. 31.
The candidates each bring more than 30 years of legal experience to the race. Henderson’s career has been spent in private practice at Henderson, Henderson & Staples. It has included a mix of criminal, civil and family representation.
Chiles, who initially had a civil practice, has spent the majority of his career in the Cabell County Prosecutor’s Office. That includes more than seven years as an assistant and nearly 24 as the county’s lead prosecutor. He will soon add to that résumé when he assumes the vacancy left by Pancake’s retirement.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin appointed Chiles to the bench earlier this month, but the appointment ends with November’s general election. That’s when voters will elect someone to serve Pancake’s remaining two years. Cole said the candidates will draw ballot positions Tuesday morning, Feb. 18, for May’s primary.
Chiles’ touted his familiarity with the courtroom after having tried nearly 100 jury trials.
“I want to continue serving the people of Cabell County, and I think it would be an honor to continue to do that in a slightly different way,” he said. “I’m very familiar with how trials are conducted and should be conducted, and as a prosecutor part of my sworn oath has always been to see that justice is done.”
But that is the main difference Henderson will point to in contrasting her candidacy with that of her former classmate. She believes her judgeship would bring a more open mindset to the bench.
“He is coming from a prosecutorial mindset,” she said. “Whereas I believe I’m coming from a position where I’ve represented people — the people of Cabell County. For everybody. I’ve represented all kinds of people. I think that makes us stand apart. I just think my perception and vision is going to be different than his.”
Henderson filed her candidacy paperwork Feb. 4, the same day of Chiles’ appointment. She described herself as eager to join the race to give voters a choice and put to rest the idea that Chiles would be unchallenged.
Chiles, who filed his paperwork Feb. 10, did not draw any specific contrast with Henderson. He said he will use his experience before judges around the state to bring efficiency, prompt rulings and impartiality to the bench.
No Republicans filed for their party’s nomination by 4:30 p.m. Monday, Cole said. That means the party’s executive committee, and then its chairman, could field a nominee by Aug. 20 for the general election.
Chiles’ appointment as judge will soon leave a vacancy in the Cabell County Prosecutor’s Office. The Cabell County Commission discussed the impending vacancy and possible replacements last Thursday during an executive session, according to County Manager Chris Tatum. He anticipates a final decision Feb. 27, the first meeting after officials anticipate Chiles’ swearing in as judge.
Tatum also acknowledged the County Commission’s potential appointment could create a vacancy within the position of fiduciary commissioner, for which Tatum said also would appear in the Feb. 27 agenda if necessary.
Cole said the County Commission’s appointment for prosecutor must be a Democrat due to Chiles’ affiliation. Both parties then can nominate candidates for the general election in November.
Terms for both offices, prosecutor and circuit judge, expire in 2016.
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