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Democrats object to magistrate appointment

Jun. 20, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

HUNTINGTON -- Two Democrat groups in Cabell County are crying foul over this month's appointment of a former Republican to fill a recent vacancy.

The complaints involve the appointment of Rondall L. Baumgardner, a former Republican magistrate who lost his bid for re-election in November 2012. The eighth-place finish placed Baumgardner ahead of his fellow Republican challengers but about 1,700 votes behind the seven victorious Democrats.

Two days later Baumgardner changed his party affiliation to Democrat, the first such modification since April 1980 when he registered to vote in Cabell County. It made him eligible for appointment as magistrate should a vacancy occur because state law requires the court to appoint a person of the same political party as the office-holder being replaced.

Cabell County Commissioner Bob Bailey, who also chairs the county's Democratic Executive Committee, called the appointment frustrating. His committee joined the county's Democratic Women's Club in filing a formal complaint with state party leaders.

"It's very frustrating when we get out and work hard to try and put a Democrat in office," he said. "They're putting people in office who we tried to defeat in the general election. People who worked against them."

The formal complaint takes direct aim at Chief Circuit Judge Paul T. Farrell, also a Democrat. It referred to Farrell's decision to appoint Baumgardner as "egregious."

"Based on (Farrell's) disregard in keeping with tradition of our Democrat party, and his disrespect for the very party that worked so diligently to get him elected, we therefore file this formal complaint," states a letter addressed by two groups to Larry Puccio, the chairman of the state's Democratic Executive Committee.

Farrell said the appointment was considered by each of Cabell County's four circuit judges, a panel which consists of three Democrats and one Republican. He said the court speaks through its orders and provided little in the way of further comment.

"This is a judicial appointment of the courts," he said. "The judges met, and we complied with the statute."

Puccio, who has multiple offices within the state, had not received the formal complaint as of Wednesday. Nor has he dealt with a similar issue during his chairmanship. He said the matter would be reviewed and dealt with appropriately.

Neither Puccio nor Bailey envisioned a scenario that would give their party jurisdiction to sanction a sitting judge, but Puccio speculates the review could give state Democrats reason to publicly express their dissatisfaction.

"I'm not saying we would, and I'm not saying we wouldn't," Puccio said. "The ultimate judge and jury in this will definitely be voters of Cabell County. They'll have the final say in saying, 'We agree with what you did,' or 'We think you used poor judgment.'"

Puccio said voters could cast such a verdict either when Farrell comes up for re-election or when Baumgardner has to run for his new party's nomination in May 2014 for the unexpired term of former Magistrate Patty Verbage-Spence. She resigned in May due to illness.

Baumgardner's four years experience as magistrate, 2009 to 2012, is one mark differentiating his resume from that of Tom Bevins, the favored choice of the complaint's authors. Bailey said state-mandated training provided to new magistrates would have leveled the playing field between the two men.

Bailey said he has nothing personal against Baumgardner and furthermore said he welcomes Baumgardner to the Democratic party. The local chairman said he would not openly endorse Baumgardner in next year's primary, but vowed his support should the new Democrat gain the party's nomination.

Bevins' resume featured work as a former city police officer. He also worked in the county's home confinement and day report programs. He finished eighth among 20 Democrats vying for their party's seven nominations in the May 2012 primary election.

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

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