St. Luke’s in Craigsville hosts ‘Meet the Candidates’ event, part two

By Autumn Shelton, RealWV

CRAIGSVILLE, W.Va. – On April 27, Nicholas County residents were able to hear from those who are running for public office at a Meet the Candidates event held in St. Luke’s auditorium. 

Recently, The Real WV published the first article in this two-part series. That first article featured candidates for the West Virginia House of Delegates Districts 48 and 49. 

Today, we are sharing information from the Meet the Candidates event for those who are running for the newly created nonpartisan Circuit Court Judge, 16th Judicial Circuit, Division 2; nonpartisan Magistrate – Division 2; and Nicholas County Sheriff. 

Serving as emcee for the event was Kris Warner, executive director of the West Virginia Economic Development Authority, and Republican candidate for West Virginia Secretary of State. 

Warner reminded those in attendance that early voting lasts from May 1 until May 11. Primary election day is May 14. 

E. Scott Stanton, candidate for Circuit Court Judge, Division 2, spoke first. 

According to Stanton, he graduated from the West Virginia University (WVU) School of Law in 1986, worked for the Fayette County Prosecutor’s office, worked in private practice and held the position of Chief Deputy Public Defender of Fayette County until his retirement earlier this year. 

“I think three things really qualify me for this job: My age, my work ethic and my experience,” Stanton said. 

At 62 years of age, Stanton explained that he will serve the eight year judicial term, if elected, but plans to be a one-term judge. 

“I’m really not ready to go sit in a rocking chair on the front porch,” Stanton said. “This is a job I want to do.” 

As for experience, Stanton said he has handled numerous cases heard before a jury in 16 courtrooms around the state. 

“I’ve seen judges that do it right, I’ve seen judges, quite frankly, that do it wrong,” Stanton noted. 

He said a number of lawyers spend their entire careers with only a couple of jury trials, but his extensive experience in that realm will only help him fulfill the duties of a judge. 

“What you are asking us to do is run a circuit court, and I can say I’ve been there everyday of my life for the last 38 years, and I think that really qualifies me to do this,” Stanton stated. 

Addressing the opioid crisis, Stanton said it is destroying nearly every county in the state – Nicholas County is no exception. 

“But, this county is doing some real things,” Stanton continued. “We’ve got the drug court, we’ve got the family treatment court, and we’ve got something called the teen court. 

Following his retirement, and when he is not campaigning, Stanton said he has been volunteering his time to make Nicholas County, and the courts, a better place. 

Up next was Michael Cox, also running for Circuit Court Judge, Division 2. 

A native to the area, Cox said he started out running an ambulance service and attended WVU, where he obtained degrees in computer and electrical engineering. 

After finishing his service in the National Guard, Cox attended law school at WVU, became a law clerk and began work as an assistant prosecutor for Nicholas County – a position he has held for five years. 

“In that time, I’ve been involved in over 9,000 cases in some way, shape or form,” Cox said. “I was not doing jury trials back in the ‘90s like my opponents here, but I did do one last week and also the week before that. So, I’m not exactly a stranger to it, and I’ll tell you something that attorneys won’t like you to hear – they’re not that hard.” 

Discussing the opioid crisis, Cox stated he would like to see a juvenile drug court come to Nicholas County. 

“Right now, we have teen court. That deals with low level, you know, kids vaping at school, smoking on the bus, that kind of thing. But, our kids that are already dealing with fentanyl, heroin, pot, there’s nothing for them at the moment,” Cox said.

He then addressed the growing issue of the county jail bill. 

“It is often said that there is nothing that a judge can do about it,” Cox said. “I’ve heard that, but I want to tell you there is something a judge can do about it.” 

Cox explained that although a judge has no control over plea deals, or whether a person violates their bond conditions, a judge can control their docket. 

“Move those cases along,” Cox stated. “The faster they move along, the less time [an offender] spend[s] in jail on the county’s dime. As soon as that goes to trial, or is [pleaded] out, it’s on the state’s dime, and not on the county’s.” 

The final candidate for Circuit Court Judge, Division 2, Greg Tucker, spoke next. 

Tucker stated that he has practiced law for 35 years, served as a state senator and was a prosecuting attorney for eight years. 

He has also served as an administrative law judge for the State of West Virginia. 

“As the elected prosecutor, I had to make difficult decisions,” Tucker said. “As state senator, I had to make difficult decisions. Being a circuit judge is about making difficult decisions, so it is absolutely 100 percent about experience.” 

According to Tucker, he has that experience. 

“I believe that my experience as a prosecutor, my experience as a state senator, my experience . . . as a private attorney and an administrative law judge has prepared me to make those decisions.”

“If you want to vote for the most qualified candidate, that’s me,” Tucker said, adding that he will work hard and judge the cases based upon the “merit of facts” and federal and state laws. 

Next before the audience were nonpartisan candidates for Magistrate-Division 2. 

The first to speak was Billy Spinks. 

A native of the area, Spinks credited his father, Henry, for who he is today. 

Spinks said he was a Nicholas County Sheriff’s Deputy in the ‘90s, and later retired as a Lieutenant with the Federal Bureau of Prisons. 

After retirement, Spinks became a substitute teacher, and said he has never been a politician. 

According to Spinks, a magistrate must have the experience to decide cases and determine probable cause. He said he has that experience. 

“There’s one thing that I have seen in the court system that I can promise you will happen in my court, there’s not enough attention paid to the victims,” Spinks said. “If you’ve ever been a victim of a crime . . . and it comes to the court, a lot of times they are neglected – the victims are neglected.’

Spinks said he will make sure the victims are heard, and “have their say.” 

Although Spinks said Nicholas County is moving in the right direction, in some cases, it’s important to try something different, especially with the drug problem. 

“If somebody comes before me a third time with petty crimes, and it’s drug related, you know what, whatever happened the other three times isn’t working, so let’s try something else,” Spinks said. “That’s what I believe. Don’t keep letting people off for just anything and everything . . . I’m not just going to slap them on the wrist and let them go, especially if it’s been their third or fourth time there.” 

Next to speak was Magistrate-Division 2 candidate Beth Boso. 

Boso explained that she began work as a victims advocate in 2001 before becoming assistant magistrate in 2005. She was later invited by the WV Supreme Court to work for a pilot program as a senior status assistant in Kanawha County. 

“I absolutely jumped in because I love this work,” Boso said, adding that she has witnessed “thousands of cases from shoplifting to murder.” 

Boso said she plans to take “court back to the courtroom,” if elected. 

“We’re not going to be deciding cases in the hall or out front,” Boso stated. “We are going to be sitting in the courtroom where court is intended to be held.” 

Boso said that actions have consequences, and she will be fair when determining those consequences. 

“We are impartial administrators of the law,” Boso continued. “Anybody who comes before us, we have to make sure that on that document that we have in front of us the requisites are met to establish probable cause.” 

Boso noted that she will be responsible, pay attention to the merits of a case, and not infringe upon a person’s rights just because she likes the officer who brought the charges, or the alleged victim. 

“This is about being fair and just,” Boso stated. “In my courtroom, I will be fair. I will be just. But, there will be consequences.” 

Next to speak was Magistrate-Division 2 candidate Jenny Gale Taylor. 

Taylor began by stating that she has been a magistrate assistant for 27 years. 

“I am very much invested in this community– in the county as a whole,” Taylor said, adding that she is also proud of her volunteer work and wants the public to know “I’m here.” 

“As you can imagine, over the course of 27 years, I have formed strong relationships within the community, the judicial system, multiple offices and agencies,” Taylor said. “All of these relationships have allowed me the opportunity to better understand the various needs of the people I would encounter as a magistrate.” 

According to Taylor, being an efficient magistrate means seeing a person’s potential, but knowing their actions have consequences. 

“My job as a magistrate would be to listen to all sides of a situation, apply laws as they are written and make fair and impartial decisions accordingly,” Taylor said. “I am honored to be here in this place that helped mold me into the person that stands before you today.” 

The final speakers of the day were the four Republican candidates for Nicholas County Sheriff. 

Mike Underwood spoke first. 

Underwood received his criminal justice degree from Fairmont State College, and in 2020 retired from the West Virginia State Police after 26 years, he said. He also worked as the threat preparation coordinator for the county’s health department until he decided to run for office. 

“I’ve been involved in the community for most of my life here in Nicholas County, Underwood said, adding he has been a little league baseball and softball coach as well as a past president of the Fraternal Order of Police. 

If elected, Underwood said he wants to create a better youth environment. 

“That starts not only while you are working in uniform, like I’ve done outside of my career. When you’re off-duty, you’ve gotta get the kids to know you while you are off-duty too,” Underwood said.

“We’ve gotta be more transparent, and let the citizens of the county know what’s going on” he continued. “The good, bad and the ugly. Twenty six years in the state police, we went through some good times, bad times and real bad times. That’s just part of the thing you’ve got to let everybody know so they know what their department is doing.” 

Underwood said he would also like to get 24-hour coverage for Nicholas County, and work together with the state police and local police departments. 

“We gotta get more deputies, and there [are] grants out there we can look for to get more deputies out there,” Underwood stated, noting that recruiting efforts are also something he plans to work on if elected. 

Sheriff candidate Johnny Evans was next to the podium. 

Evans said he obtained his criminal justice degree from Marshall University in 1999, began work as a Nicholas County Sheriff’s Deputy and now serves as chief deputy. 

“I’ve dedicated my whole life to this job,” Evans stated. 

One of his initiatives, if elected, will be to increase “manpower” in the department. 

“People just don’t want to do this job in law enforcement,” Evans said. “People see the news, and it’s just really sad. Every department is facing it, the state police is really facing it.” 

Evans explained that just 10 years ago, the department had 28 deputies, that number is now down to 14. 

“That’s probably one of the reasons that your opioid problem has soared, so we need to get a hold of that,” Evans noted. 

He also said he would work on getting pay raises for the deputies, bringing new programs to the department to entice people to serve, becoming more involved with youth, and placing an emphasis on community policing.

“I believe the more you have sheriff vehicles, state vehicles, whatever in the communities, you are going to prevent crime from happening when they see you,” Evans said, adding he would also like to bring back a responsive neighborhood watch program. 

Next to speak was candidate Shawn Bragg. 

“I want this job, because I care about this county,” Bragg began, adding that he was in the military for 26 years and is a retired combat veteran. He is also a senior Army instructor for the JROTC program. 

He said that he has been thinking a lot about policing and the needs of his community. 

“Summersville [Police Department] has plenty of police officers,” Bragg said. “They are a full force, about 21, 22 people. So, how I see it is, our deputies don’t really need to be there.”

Bragg explained that he had been sitting at the courthouse, and while he didn’t want to put anyone down, he witnessed five or six cruisers just sitting there. 

“I understand you can say, ‘They’re doing paperwork,’ but I sat there two and three hours,” Bragg said. “Are they just doing paperwork? We need our police out here in the community, and we need them patrolling and helping and watching. That will push crime down.” 

He said he also thought about police response time. 

“Sometimes it takes two to three hours for somebody to respond,” Bragg said, adding that it is more prevalent in the most rural areas of the county, like Nettie. 

He concluded by stating that officers need to be seen at community events, and to provide assistance when children get on and off the bus at schools.

The last speaker was Rodney “Lefty” Truman, who began by stating that he served in the U.S. Marine Corps, served as a police officer, and at age 40 decided to serve the country by fighting in Iraq. 

“That was probably the dumbest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” Truman said. “I mean, they whipped my butt over there. 40 years old – you don’t want to do that. You want to do it at a young age.” 

“For everything there is a season, you’ve heard that right, it’s in the Bible,” Truman continued. “You pray, you grieve, you love, you hate. You have wars, you have peace. For 35 years, I have been in this community. I have everything wrapped up in this community . . . my whole life is invested in this county, and serving people, and I enjoy it. I enjoy what I do.” 

He said he wants to continue to help people if elected. 

“As far as working, and as far as what’s going on, I have knowledge and I have experience,” Truman said. “I can take that, and I can work with people. As far as everything that Shawn Bragg said, I agree. I agree with every one of them, and everyone will agree with me. That’s what we need for this county. That’s exactly what we need. My question for you is, who do you think has the knowledge and the personality to work with everybody?” 

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