Armstead sworn in as temporary court justice

CHARLESTON — Tim Armstead, the former speaker of the House of Delegates, took the oath of office as a justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals a day after a legal decision cleared the way.

Armstead, surrounded by family and friends, was sworn in by Kanawha County Circuit Judge Dan Greear in a ceremony in the supreme court chambers Tuesday afternoon at the State Capitol Building in Charleston.

“I look forward to being a part of rebuilding this court,” Armstead said. “I’m so very thankful to have this opportunity.”

Armstead and U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., were appointed by Gov. Jim Justice Aug. 25 after being recommend by the Judicial Vacancy Advisory Commission to fill two vacancies on the high court. Jenkins will be sworn in Monday, Oct. 1, at 11 a.m. and is expected to resign from Congress before then. Both Armstead and Jenkins will sit as justices until the Nov. 6 special elections to permanently fill those seats.

“I’m optimistic and I’m encouraged, because I do believe that the people of West Virginia want to see this court succeed,” Armstead said. “They want to see this court be what it was designed to be.”

Armstead replaces former justice Menis Ketchum, who resigned July 27 prior to the start of impeachment investigations by the House of Delegates which resulted in 11 articles of impeachment against the remaining elected justices. Ketchum pleaded guilty to a federal information of felony wire fraud on Aug. 23 and faces sentencing in December.

“All of us know there is a crisis in our judiciary,” Armstead said. “This past year has been very challenging for our judiciary system. This is a time that none of us could have wished upon the State of West Virginia.”

According to state code, Armstead and Jenkins had to wait 20 days from the time of their appointment before taking the bench. During that time, two petitions were filed to prevent Armstead and Jenkins from being appointed and to keep Jenkins off the November special election ballot.

On Sept. 24, a panel of appointed circuit court judges acting as supreme court justices heard arguments in the combined cases brought against Armstead and Jenkins by Clay County attorney William King and Charleston attorney William Schwartz, who was represented by attorney Teresa Toriseva of Wheeling. The acting justices issued an order dismissing the petitions after an hour and a half of arguments

Toriseva argued that Armstead was prohibited from being appointed by the emoluments clause. She said that Armstead’s vote to initiate the impeachment process created the circumstances that caused Ketchum to resign, and that previous votes for judicial pay increases in previous terms of office disqualified Armstead’s appointment. Toriseva also argued that both supreme court vacancies should have been filled with Democrats since the seats were elected before judicial elections became non-partisan.

Armstead, who was first appointed to the House of Delegates in 1998 by the late Gov. Cecil Underwood, has served in the house for 20 years and served as speaker of the house since 2014 when Republicans took the majority in the house. He worked as an attorney for natural gas companies for many years.

“We have the work in front of us,” Armstead said. “It’s not going to be overnight, and it’s not going to be a fix overnight. It’s going to take months if not years to restore the confidence in this court. It’s our job to rebuild it.”

Jenkins — who was elected to Congress in 2014 — was appointed to fill the seat of former justice Robin Davis who resigned after the House adopted several articles of impeachment against her.

Both Armstead and Jenkins are running in the November special election to fill the remainder of the terms that were vacated. Ketchum’s seat — division 1 — is up for election against in 2020, while Davis’ seat — division 2 — is up for election again in 2024.

Candidates for division 1 include: Williamson attorney Robert Carlton, Barboursville attorney D.C. Offutt Jr., Charleston attorney Harry Bruner Jr., Huntington attorney Ronald Hatfield Jr., Charleston former delegate Mark Hunt, former state attorney general candidate Hiram Lewis, Kanawha County Circuit Court Judge Joanna Tabit, Eastern Panhandle Circuit Court Judge Chris Wilkes and Nitro attorney Jeff Wood.

Candidates for division 2 include: Kanawha County Family Court Judge Jim Douglas, Lewisburg attorney Robert Frank, former Senate President Jeff Kessler of Glen Dale, Hurricane attorney Brenden Long, Wheeling attorney Jim O’Brien, Charleston attorney William Schwartz, Wheeling attorney Marty Sheehan, Charleston attorney Dennise Smith, and Boone County Circuit Court Judge William Thompson.