RealWV hosts Circuit Court Judge candidates during first night of Greenbrier County Primary Debates

By Matthew Young, RealWV

LEWISBURG, W.Va. – The RealWV, on Monday, hosted the first of two scheduled Greenbrier County Primary Debates at the Lewis Theatre. The evening featured nonpartisan judicial candidates for both Family Court and Circuit Court Judge. Although a Board of Education forum was originally planned, scheduling conflicts among several candidates prevented it from taking place. 

NOTE: This article covers the candidates for Circuit Court Judge. Click here to read RealWV’s coverage of our Family Court debate.

Beginning the evening was Greenbrier County Prosecuting Attorney Patrick Via, unopposed candidate for Circuit Court Judge in Division 2 of the 29th Judicial Circuit. As Via has no primary challenger, he alone shared the stage with, and answered questions from, the event’s moderator, Lt. Col. (U.S. Army Retired) Scott Womack, Ed. D.

In response to Womack’s first question, Via said that, “My judicial philosophy will be one that places special emphasis on adhering to the law as it is written.”

“I’m a firm believer that the legislative branch of government creates our laws, passes our laws, and establishes them with the governor’s agreement,” Via added. “A judge’s job is to apply that law appropriately, interpret it appropriately, and to keep any personal feelings or biases that human beings may have completely detached from that.”

When asked why he wants to be Circuit Court Judge, Via replied, “I’m in my sixteenth year as county prosecutor. Prior to being prosecutor, I had a very active law practice here in town (Lewisburg). […] I’ve reached the point in my professional life where it feels like something I’ve prepared myself to do, and something I’m confident in doing.” 

“I’ve practiced before a number of judges in my career,” Via added. “I’m ready to take on this task, I look forward to it, and I believe it’s the appropriate path for me to take at this time to continue to serve the citizens of Pocahontas and Greenbrier Counties.”

Photo by Diane Browning, Board Member of The RealWV.

Watch The RealWV’s Greenbrier County Nonpartisan Candidate Primary Debate on our Facebook page, or by clicking the link below:

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Also participating were the two Division 1 Circuit Court Judge candidates – Assistant Greenbrier County Prosecuting Attorney Ryan Blake, and incumbent Circuit Court Judge Robert Richardson. Similar to Division 2, Division 1 services Greenbrier and Pocahontas Counties.

Much as he did with Via, Womack began by asking each candidate to describe their respective judicial philosophies.

Richardson was the first to answer, explaining, “I believe the judge’s goal is to decide the case before him or her based on the law, and based on the facts. It is not the role of a judge to make law – that’s for the legislative branch as established by the Constitution.”

Blake expressed his agreement with Richardson’s statement, adding, “I do believe the role of a circuit judge is to follow, apply, and uphold the law as set forth in the Constitution, and by the State of West Virginia.” 

Again as he did with Via, Womack asked Blake why he wants to be Circuit Court Judge.

“I have the experience necessary to be a good, effective judge,” Blake said. “I have more experience as a trial litigator than the last four sitting judges of this circuit combined. I look forward to utilizing that experience, along with my demeanor and my personality, to make a true difference for this community.”

For Richardson, the question was slightly different.

“Why do you want to remain a judge?” Womack asked.

“I have been fascinated by the law since I was a child,” Richardson replied. “For 27 years I believed that being a lawyer was the best job in the world. 10-years ago, I had the opportunity to take the experiences that I’ve had as a lawyer, and apply them in a new context – to serve the people of this community.”

Womack then shifted the conversation to “restorative justice,” a system of jurisprudence which focuses more on the rehabilitation of offenders through reconciliation, rather than on punishment alone.

“I believe that the court system, when properly functioning and operating within the rules that are established, has options and pathways for restoration rather than just retribution,” Richardson said, adding his belief that this method is particularly effective with juvenile offenders.

“Part of that is to give the juvenile the opportunity to make good on what they did wrong,” Richardson added. 

Blake began his answer by sharing his understanding of the concept of restorative justice.

“Restorative justice enables persons that have been harmed in some fashion to be empowered to confront those who are accused of harming them in an effort to try to have some transformative process of reformation or rehabilitation in some fashion between the parties,” Blake said. “It is certainly something that, in a controlled, sterile environment – which is what it’s designed for – could be an option.”

“It does take a willingness on the part of the individual who feels harmed to buy into engaging in that type of exercise,” Blake added. “Like any mediation, that’s not something a court should force upon someone – nor is it something that we should ignore as an option.”

After both candidates confirmed that Treatment Court programs would be among their top priorities, Womack asked Richardson what knowledge he has gained from his first term on the bench that he would find helpful if elected to a second. 

In response, Richardson described the substantial backlog of cases he inherited after taking office. He briefly explained what was required to bring the caseload back within acceptable limits, noting, “The process of applying a sincere work ethic to the job is essential.” 

For Blake, the question was altered slightly.

“What have you learned as a prosecutor that you would bring to the bench as a judge?” Womack asked.

“I would certainly take my experience as a trial attorney to the bench,” Blake said. “I’ll take other qualities that I’ve honed as a prosecutor as well – one is my demeanor.”

“I feel I have a calm, compassionate demeanor,” Blake added, “And a collegial relationship with members of the Bar (Association) and court staff.”

To learn more about Ryan Blake and Judge Robert Richardson, read The RealWV’s candidate profiles at the links below:

The second of two Greenbrier County Primary Debates will again take place at the Lewis Theatre, on Thursday, April 11, at 6 p.m. Thursday’s event will feature partisan races, including County Commission, County Sheriff, and House of Delegates Districts 46 and 47. 

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