RealWV hosts Family 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 Family Court Judge. Click here to read RealWV’s coverage of our Circuit Court debates. 

All three candidates for Family Court Judge in Division 1 of the 15th Circuit – Kelly Kemp, Christine Stump, and Grady Ford – participated in the evening’s panel. Division 1 of the 15th Circuit services Greenbrier and Monroe Counties. Lt. Col. (U.S. Army Retired) Scott Womack, Ed. D., served as moderator for the evening.

To begin, Womack asked the candidates to explain their understanding of the role of a Family Court Judge within the community. Kemp was the first to respond.

“The judge’s job is to listen carefully to the people who come before the court,” Kemp said. “They make decisions based upon the testimony and the law, and they keep the cases flowing through. It has to be done in a way that is fair and impartial, and the parties have to be treated with courtesy and respect.”

Ford was next to answer, saying, “Unlike the Circuit Court, where many of the facts are decided by the jury, in Family Court all the facts are decided by the judge. The temperament and the demeanor, and the common sense and application of the determining facts is an important part of the judge’s role.”

Ford stated his agreement with Kemp regarding the need for movement within the docket, adding that he believes cases involving children are of particular importance. 

The final response was given by Stump, who said, “The role of the Family Court Judge, number one, is to follow the law. The secondary role is [to be] the trier of fact – that means listening, listening, listening. Taking the experience and listening to the evidence. But more importantly, understanding that the rules of practice and procedure for Family Court require certain timelines.” 

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

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Ford was first to answer Womack’s second question: “With the foster care crisis raging in West Virginia, how could your office help these children do better in foster care?”

“I think that many people would think that Family Court deals with children that are in foster care, and that simply isn’t the case,” Ford said. “Children that are in foster care have been removed from their homes by the Dept. of Human Services, and placed in foster care. That’s really a great question for the Circuit Court Judge.”

Stump concurred with Ford’s assessment, saying, “The Family Court really has no overlapping jurisdiction at all regarding the foster care system. It is not something the Family Court deals with at all. The only way it would come into play is if there was a case, for example, with domestic violence or a guardianship, […] there’s a procedure in Family Court called an ‘overlap letter,’ and this is where [a case] is referred to Circuit Court.”

Last to respond was Kemp.

“A case with a foster family or foster child may originate in Family Court because […] the Family Court Judge discovers that there is abuse and neglect,” Kemp said. “They have an obligation to report that, and perhaps there would be an overlap letter. […] Really the Family Court is removed from the foster care system.”

Womack then shifted the conversation to the recent law change establishing the presumption of 50/50 parental custody, a topic which resulted in varying responses from each of the three candidates.

“With the 50/50 presumption also comes a statute called the ‘limiting factors,’” Stump explained. “That sets forth factors […] that can reduce the presumption of 50/50 custody. Mind you the presumption is very much favored, and the limiting factors are quite serious.”

According to Stump, drug addiction, criminal history, and domestic violence are all examples of limiting factors. However, Stump further stated that those factors are currently being litigated.

“We (also) don’t have a firm definition yet from the Intermediate Court as to what 50/50 equal parenting means,” Stump added. “We haven’t developed the law to that point yet. It is actively being litigated all the time. It’s involved in every single divorce and custody case, and requires a lot of experience to be able to analyze properly the best interests of the children. After you’ve gone through all limiting factors, then best interest of the child kicks in.”

Kemp was next to respond, saying, “For years it was the best interest of the children. […] I think that the best interest of the child has to be an overriding factor for not just the court, but for the parents.”

“Yes, 50/50 may be the law, but parents need to focus on what’s best for their children,” Kemp added. “I think that even though the law is 50/50, people can agree on a custodial situation that accommodates the children’s best interests. […] I think that children need both parents in their lives, and it’s very important for the children to spend equal time if that’s possible. People have to have reasonable expectations, and be pragmatic.”

Ford was the last to share his thoughts.

“Judges are constrained to apply the law that there is,” Ford said. “Under the law, there is a presumption of 50/50 custody. I think the legislature’s motivation was in the right place when they did that, but it does create a number of practical  difficulties.”

“The law, as it is now, is that there is a presumption of 50/50 with those limiting factors,” Ford added. “I think that as a judge, you don’t get to substitute your judgment for what the legislature has said.” 

To learn more about Kelly Kemp, Christine Stump, and Grady Ford, 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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