This is one of a series of guest columns from candidates in contested races in the June 9 West Virginia Primary Election.
Elections are the bedrock of our democracy, but like almost everything else in our lives, they have been dramatically disrupted by the COVID-19 crisis. To help address this pandemic, West Virginia has taken the unusual step of moving the May 12th elections to June 9th.
While this decision affects all of us who are candidates for public office, it is the right decision to protect our people and limit the risk of exposure for voters, election day workers, courthouse staff and others. Quite simply the safety of our citizens must come first. While I know this was a difficult call for the governor to make, I know he did so in consultation with medical experts inside and outside of West Virginia.
Traditional campaigning and politics seem wildly out of place while people are suffering through unprecedented self-isolation, enduring hardships caused by an economy that has been radically curtailed, and wondering how they are going to make their next rent or mortgage payment. But it is because of these issues that the upcoming elections are so important. After all, they will determine who’ll be in positions of responsibility and authority as we strive to restart our economy and begin the process of recovery.
While the COVID-19 crisis has caused the closure of West Virginia schools, restaurants, athletic events and so many other everyday commonplace activities that we take for granted, it has not, unfortunately, stopped criminals from committing crimes, children from being abused, and people from being the victims of domestic violence. As a member of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, it has been the responsibility of myself and my colleagues on the court to make sure the wheels of justice continue to turn.
Addressing these situations can’t be postponed, put on hold, or delayed. Public safety, the preservation of our constitutional rights, and simple justice demand that we take action to keep the judicial system moving as effectively as possible. I and my colleagues on the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals are responsible for the administration of the entire judicial system in West Virginia. That’s why when individuals in one of our courthouses tested positive for the coronavirus, we acted quickly to put procedures in place to utilize video conferencing, telecommunications and other methods to permit magistrate and circuit courts, who are on the front lines of protecting our communities, to deal with emergency matters and safely as possible.
Some of those matters include:
- Domestic violence petitions;
- Child abuse and neglect cases;
- Infant guardianship;
- Custody cases involving a threat to the health and safety of a child;
- Initial criminal appearances;
- Search warrants;
- Criminal preliminary hearings.
While this public health emergency is unprecedented, my 24 years as a circuit court judge and my 18 months as a justice on the Supreme Court of Appeals have uniquely prepared me to help the courts meet these challenges as we make our way through this crisis. There is no doubt that we all owe a profound debt of gratitude to our doctors, nurses hospital staff and other health care professionals who unselfishly put their lives on the line for us.
As we remember all that they have done for us, we should also remember those in law enforcement, emergency medical services, firefighters, 911 workers, prosecuting attorneys, circuit court judges, magistrates, bailiffs, court clerks and all those who help keep the administration of justice working. We can recognize and honor their commitment and service to us by exercising our precious right to vote in the upcoming elections.