Three Dems vie for new Circuit Court bench

May 02, 2000|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A new Circuit judge will be seated in Martinsburg next year, and three Democrats are vying for the job.

David A. Camilletti, Patrick Henry and Gray Silver III are squaring off in the May 9 primary. The winner will be the next judge, since there is no Republican candidate in the fall.

There are currently three judge positions in the 23rd Circuit, which covers Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan counties. The new slot will be the fourth.

Henry is the only candidate with experience on the bench. He was Circuit judge from 1985 to 1992, when he lost to David Sanders in the primary.


Henry believes his controversial decision to let a landfill stay open may have cost him his seat but said he would rule the same way again. "My integrity said there was only one way it could be decided."

In 1974, just days out of law school, Henry was sworn in as an assistant prosecuting attorney in Berkeley County, where he served 10 years.

Henry said he won't forget the instant baptism in his first case, a third-offense drunken driving charge. The defendant's mother cursed at him during his summation and she received 10 days in jail for contempt of court, he said.

That same year, he began his civil practice, which he closed while he was a judge.

The last two or three years, Henry's practice has specialized in mediation. He estimated that he has had about 300 mediation cases and has "found answers" in about 80 percent of them.

Henry said that he presided over 200 criminal jury trials and never had a decision reversed on appeal.

The only civil decision to be reversed, he said, was a case in which two adults and a child injured in a fire were all represented by the same attorney. Henry said he had doubts about that arrangement.

After the decision was overturned, the child received a settlement before a new trial could be held, Henry said.

Silver was never a Circuit Court judge, but his father, also named Gray, was. His uncle Francis was the Berkeley County surveyor for many years, and his uncle, Clarence Martin Jr., was a state senator.

"From an early age, we were taught that public service was something you should look to," Silver said.

One of the most important considerations in a judicial race is the candidates' respect for their constituents, he said.

"I ask my fellow citizens for their vote and support to entrust me with the privilege of serving them as their circuit judge," he said.

Silver, now a lawyer, said he knows a great number of people in the Eastern Panhandle because he has worked at a slew of businesses - as a plumber, a roofer, a car washer and at other jobs.

"You need to know people to be successful in life," he said. "It's important for a judge to treat everyone who steps in his courtroom equally."

When he joined the state attorney general's office early in his career, Silver found himself in courtrooms at many different levels. He said that some judges are better than others, and as judge he would call upon the best qualities he witnessed, such as fairness and patience.

Silver has been with four firms in Martinsburg over the past 18 years and is currently with Spilman Thomas & Battle, primarily as a civil defense attorney.

Camilletti, who has been practicing for 18 years, said he comes from a family of attorneys, including his grandfather, his father and his brother. He expected to stay for a while at the family practice in Wheeling, W.Va., but it shrunk, so he opened a small practice in Morgantown, W.Va.

Then, after a few years practicing in Charleston, W.Va., Camilletti moved to the Eastern Panhandle. He currently has a general practice in Shepherdstown, W.Va.

When he moved to this area in 1992, a third judge had just been added to the 23rd Circuit. "I didn't think anything of that, but last year, the legislature decided to add another (seat) in time for (this year's) election. I knew right away this was the opportunity," Camilletti said.

He said the breadth of his work makes him a good candidate.

"A judge should have a broad base in being a lawyer, in dealing with people," he said. "You want courtroom experience, ... someone who has tried a lot of different cases."

Camilletti said he has had his share of murders and other major criminal cases, but has also handled workers' compensation, divorce, tax and bankruptcy cases.

He said he especially enjoys trial work. "I like the fast pace, having to think on your feet. ... I'm good at it."

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