Greenbrier County Bar Association hosts judicial candidate forum

By Jeffrey Kanode, RealWV

LEWISBURG, W.Va. – The Greenbrier County Bar Association, on Thursday, hosted a forum for their members, featuring judicial candidates from Greenbrier, Monroe, Summers, and Pocahontas Counties. Lewisburg Attorney Mike Whitt served as moderator for the evening.

According to Whitt, all candidate questions were submitted by members of the Bar Association, with none of the candidates having access to the questions until they were read during the forum. 

All three candidates for Family Court Judge of Greenbrier and Monroe Counties – Attorneys Christine Stump, Kelly Kemp, and Grady Ford – were on-hand to participate. 

Stump used the forum to emphasize her experience in family law, and her determination to make family court work more efficiently. 

“You have to have a full day of court,” Stump said, elaborating that, “There is an absolute backlog in Family Court. It’s inexcusable. We have the rules of practice and procedure that govern procedures in Family Court.” 

Stump noted that there are clear timelines outlined in state law regarding Family Court matters such as divorce and the custody of children. Stump further emphasized the importance of the Family Court’s compliance with legally-mandated time frames when issuing decisions.

“We’ve got to get hearings heard, timely, in accordance with our statutes,” Stump noted.

When reflecting on why she’s running for Family Court Judge, Kelly Kemp harkened back to the beginning of her career. 

“This is a job I’ve wanted since college,” she said. “I am glad for the opportunity to run, and I’d be glad for the opportunity to serve.” 

Kemp highlighted her twenty-eight years with the Bureau for Child Support Enforcement, noting that the current caseload is approximately 2,500 cases.  

“Ten years ago, it was 5,000,” Kemp added. “I can manage a large caseload and schedule the needed hearings. I’m a hard worker, and I have the disposition to work with others to get the job done. I believe everyone who comes before Family Court should be treated with courtesy and respect. I have the temperament to do that.” 

Grady Ford joined his father and late grandfather’s law firm in 2015. 

“Dad has said many times we have a ‘general country practice,’ and much of that is doing family law and domestic relations,” Ford said. “Since being here for eight years, a substantial portion of my work has been doing divorces and allocation of custodial responsibility, and representing children in guardian ad litem procedures. That’s the primary reason I am running for Family Court Judge.” 

Ford said cases involving children “should be given the highest priority, the court must not allow the burden of docket or malaise to cause delay.”

To learn more about the candidates for Family Court Judge, follow the links below:

Next up were District 31 Circuit Judge candidates, Rod Mohler and Keith Lively. Circuit 31 includes portions of Monroe and Summers Counties. Candidates Amy Mann and Kristin Cook were not in attendance Thursday.

Whitt asked both Lively and Mohler about the efficacy of judicial innovations, such as treatment courts, veteran’s courts, and teen courts. 

“It’s imperative to give people the chance to utilize the courts,” Lively responded.

Mohler stated that the court system “can’t just be punitive. I’ve never been concerned with wins or losses. The more specialized the treatment, the better.”

To learn more about the candidates for District 31 Circuit Court Judge, follow the links below:

In the race for Prosecuting Attorney of Pocahontas County, Joni Nichols and Laura Kershner shared their individual approaches to cases involving child abuse and neglect. 

Whitt asked, “Prosecuting attorneys represent the Department of Human Services in childhood and neglect cases, and oftentimes prosecute those same adult respondents in criminal cases. Sometimes, to me, there appears to be a disconnect between working with an adult respondent parent in an abuse and neglect case during an improvement period and prosecuting that same person in the criminal case with the possibility of prison time. Do you see a disconnect there, and if you do, how do you reconcile it?”

Kershner replied that she does see a disconnect in this seeming dual role of the prosecutor.  

“Our abuse and neglect process in circuit court addresses the deficiencies of parents who are unwilling or unable to care for their children,” Kershner said. “Sometimes, the situation that caused the removal of that child or those children also caused the parents to face criminal charges.” 

Kershner acknowledged that after a child has been removed from the home because of the parent facing charges, many parents want custody of their child once more. 

“They have that right to be unified with their child,” Kershner added. “If you are asking parents to acknowledge the problems that led them to court, you can’t turn around and use that information against them in a criminal matter. We’ve addressed that issue. There should be use-immunity for parents who testify truthfully in abuse and neglect court, that they can’t fear that the prosecutor will turn around and use that information against them in the criminal proceeding.  We have to treat the abuse and neglect process as restorative, and we know that the criminal process cannot necessarily be characterized as that.”

Nichols, who currently serves as Assistant Prosecutor of Pocahontas County, said she has run into this issue in her nine months in that position. 

“I can think of a couple of specific cases where my office has chosen to not pursue those charges beyond an initial stage to allow the parent the time and the resources within the abuse and neglect proceeding to remedy the issues that lead to them abusing or neglecting their child,” Nichols said. “Sometimes they are successful; sometimes they are not. Whether they are successful doesn’t make their previous conduct less criminal, but it certainly is motivation, at least as far as I am concerned, to have them participate in the resources, to see if they are really willing to put in the work to be reunified with their children, because that is always the goal.”

Candidates for Greenbrier and Pocahontas Counties Circuit Judge, Division 11, incumbent Judge Robert Richardson and challenger Ryan Blake, also participated in Thursday’s forum. 

For more information about the campaigns of Judge Robert Richardson and Ryan Blake, follow the links below:

All judicial elections in West Virginia will be held on Primary Election Day – Tuesday, May 14. 

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