Loughry surprises some to join Davis on Supreme Court - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

Loughry surprises some to join Davis on Supreme Court

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Elections experts may not have found West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Robin Jean Davis' reelection shocking but the second justice who will join her came as a surprise to some.

The Associated Press called the election for Charleston attorney Allen Loughry, a Republican candidate, at 11:30 p.m. Nov. 6.

Unofficial election results show Loughry with 26 percent, 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge John Yoder with 24 percent and Letitia "Tish" Chafin with 23 percent.

George Carenbauer, an attorney with Steptoe & Johnson in Charleston and an elections expert, said he thought the results were surprising.

"I think most of the people I spoke to thought it would either be Tish Chafin or John Yoder, not Allen Loughry," he said. "We have to commend Mr. Loughry for his exceptional results. The pundits did not see that one coming. I don't know how he did it."

So what could have lead to Loughry's victory? Carenbauer said it's tough to tell because of the absence of public polling data.

"All we had to go on was our gut. Our gut is (Chafin) is well-funded, a Democrat, likeable — she's been all over the state. Our gut would say she's likely to win because of that," Carenbauer said. 

Loughry credited his success to a "positive, family-oriented campaign."

"We stayed positive from beginning to end, and we've worked very hard. We were fortunate to win a seat on the West Virginia Supreme Court," Loughry said.

Kathy Brown, a Charleston lawyer and political consultant, also cited Loughry's campaign.

"Allen Loughry's win was somewhat of a surprise. Although, he ran a clean campaign and had some interesting TV commercials," she said. 

Tera McCown, a professor at the University of Charleston, said it could have come down to how relatable he was.

"Allen Loughry is probably the closest to the rest of us," she said. "He's a West Virginian who has some good beliefs but doesn't have deep pockets."

McCown and Carenbauer said Loughry's victory also could have come in part from a West Virginia Supreme Court challenge of the matching funds provision in the state's public finance pilot program.

Loughry, the only candidate hoping to participate in the project, filed the petition with the court to force the State Election Commission to release public funds to his campaign.

State Supreme Court justices ultimately ruled the provision unconstitutional because it placed "a substantial burden on privately funded candidates' free speech rights.

However, justices ruled he could seek campaign contributions for his candidacy.

"They may have been better off just giving him the money that he jumped through all those hoops to earn, because the publicity he got from all that — you can't buy that," McCown said.  

Carenbauer agreed that the publicity could have helped.

"For one thing, the public financing did give him enough money to make an incredible race to begin with," he said. "He didn't get the matching money but the base amount. … That gave him enough to run a race. That was followed up with free publicity of the lawsuit. I think that's likely, but in the absence of polling data, we really don't know."

Carenbauer said this year in particular was interesting because there were two seats up for bid instead of one. The two up for bid were filled by incumbents Davis and Justice Thomas McHugh, who chose not to run for re-election.

However, Carenbauer said state Supreme Court elections like this year, where there were two positions available instead of one, have their limitations.

"I think we should have in years where we have two up for election to have divisions like we do for circuit court judges," Carenbauer said. "In Kanawha County, they're all elected at the same time, but it's seven individual seats. So you pick, ‘do I run for the seat occupied by Duke Bloom? We should do the same for Supreme Court. … In divisions, you always have a one-on-one race to give voters a clear choice."

He added that he does not support partisan election of justices.

"I don't think the public does either," he said. "There is no ideological difference between McHugh and Loughry. Loughry was a Democrat two years ago. Then he became an independent. Then he became a Republican. I think he did that for pragmatic reasons to get elected, not for ideological reasons. I don't see why the role of judge should be partisan to begin with. The Legislature should think of changing the law of that."

From a lawyer's perspective, Carenbauer said he thinks the state will be "looking at the continuation of a good moderate court."

"I think that the Supreme Court will remain what it is now, which is a stable, moderate body of people who get along well together," he said. 

Chafin and Yoder congratulated both Davis and Loughry on their victories. 

"I am confident they will work hard to move our court system forward and create a level playing field for all who appear before the court," Chafin said. "And I would also like to congratulate Judge Yoder for running a good campaign."

Yoder commended the two victors on their campaigns and mentioned his own limitations with his health. 

"They both ran good campaigns, and my campaign was hampered by the fact that I had open heart surgery in a crucial time in the campaign (that) seriously hampered my organizational and fund raising efforts," he said. " I think the results, with Allen Loughry winning, show that the people of West Virginia will elect another Republican to the Court if another vacancy comes up.

Yoder advised both candidates to "remove politics of any kind" from the court system." 

"I would urge them both to be sensitive to the image of our legal system amongst business leaders and others at the national level and to continue to take steps that will improve the image of our legal system in the business community," he said. " I would also urge them to move towards a non-partisan judicial system."