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Judge Pancake to step down

Pancake
Jul. 17, 2013 @ 12:03 AM

HUNTINGTON -- Cabell Circuit Judge David M. Pancake will soon exchange his gavel and bench for more time with his family, in particular his two grandsons and three daughters.

Pancake confirmed his intentions Tuesday, saying he hopes to retire either the last week of December or first week of January 2014. Deciding upon a specific date has been difficult for the 70-year-old judge, but the decision to step down came easy.

The Huntington native thought back to advice from his father, who taught Pancake it's not unusual to occasionally arrive at work on Monday wishing you were somewhere else. But when the thought became more frequent, Pancake realized it was time for a change.

"I never thought it would happen to me, but my grandchildren have just turned me into a babbling fool," he said. "Jane and I are both just anxious for every moment we get can spend with them."

The grandsons live in Charlottesville, Va., and such a trip can be difficult for a judge whose docket has two jury trials scheduled for every day through September 2014. That makes it increasingly difficult for Pancake to satisfy both his 60-hour-a-week workload and a growing desire for family time.

Pancake has presided over predominately civil litigation during his time on the bench. He said such cases involved much preparation time as he vowed to never look across the bench to ask what a case is about, a trait noticed by Chief Circuit Judge Paul T. Farrell of Cabell County.

"He's a conscientious judge, who is probably as well prepared as anybody in the state," Farrell said. "He's a unique personality, who will be missed when he leaves."

The judge estimates he came to his final decision six weeks ago. He discussed his intentions with staff and sought the necessary paperwork from the state Supreme Court of Appeals. He hopes to finalize a resignation date in the weeks ahead once he receives an informational packet from the court.

At a hearing before Tuesday's interview, Pancake told attorneys he hopes to wrap up as many cases as possible in his remaining time. He also said he plans to schedule little to nothing in January and February so as to provide his successor adequate time for training.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, D-W.Va., will be tasked with appointing a successor. That means the judicial seat likely could switch from Republican to Democrat, as Pancake was appointed in 1998 by late Gov. Cecil Underwood, a Republican. Voters then elected Pancake to his predecessor's unexpired term and re-elected him for two, 8-year terms, the last of which expires in 2016.

The timing of Pancake's exit will determine if Tomblin's appointee has to campaign for the unexpired term, Farrell said. The state's Judicial Vacancy Advisory Commission will take applications and schedule interviews with those interested. Farrell explained commissioners will suggest up to five candidates to Tomblin, who can appoint a successor from those recommended or select someone else entirely.

By giving more-than-sufficient notice of his retirement, Pancake hopes that will help the Advisory Commission and Tomblin's office complete tasks for naming a successor before his exit. Farrell acknowledged his colleague's thoughtfulness, but said early information from Charleston indicates it will not expedite the process. That would require the state Supreme Court to name a interim replacement until Tomblin's appoints someone permanent.

Follow Curtis Johnson at Facebook.com/curtisjohnsonHD and via Twitter @curtisjohnsonHD.

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