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Both candidates in Eastern Panhandle's 23rd Judicial Circuit race appear to have violated state campaign rules

October 24, 2008|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Both candidates for judge in Division 5 of the Eastern Panhandle's 23rd Judicial Circuit appear to have violated state court rules governing campaign conduct, but neither say their actions were intentional and one questions whether the rule he supposedly broke "holds any water."

23rd Judicial Circuit Judge Gina M. Groh said Wednesday that she did not realize she violated the state Code of Judicial Conduct when she personally asked Morgan County Sheriff Ronald McIntire and Chief Deputy Sheriff Vince Shambaugh to be in a photograph with her that has been used in advertising and mailings.

According to Canon 5 of the guidelines for the state judicial system, a candidate for the bench cannot personally solicit "publicly stated support," but the rules do permit a candidate's campaign committee to take such action.

"I didn't realize I was in violation of that," Groh said when asked about how the advertisement was done.

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Groh's opponent, attorney Harry P. Waddell, disputes whether he violated any judicial rule by contributing to candidates Margaret Workman and Beth Walker, who are running for the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia, and to U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito and her opponent, Anne Barth.

Though Canon 5 does not explicitly say a candidate-to-candidate contribution is prohibited, a June 1995 advisory opinion on the judicial code section does state "a contribution to an individual political candidate is not permitted."

Waddell donated $250 each to Workman, a Democrat, and Walker, a Republican, who are vying for seats on the high court bench, according to campaign finance reports filed with Secretary of State Betty Ireland's office. Waddell also gave $1,000 each to Capito and Barth, the Democratic Party's nominee for the 2nd Congressional District seat, earlier this year as well.

"I attended dinners or events of candidates in both parties," Waddell said. "I didn't play favorites. Nor will I play favorites as a judge."

"Any such rule would be unconstitutional and there is U.S Supreme Court case law that says so," Waddell said of the advisory opinion, which he said quells free speech that is exercised when making a contribution.

Waddell provided a digital copy of a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court opinion that concluded a Minnesota state campaign rule prohibiting judicial candidates from announcing their views on disputed legal or political issues was a violation of First Amendment rights.

Groh said Wednesday she would take personal responsibility for soliciting McIntire and Shambaugh, who were quoted as supporting the judge in a newspaper advertisement published earlier this month.

Appointed to the bench in December 2006, Groh said she was "burning the (phone) line (to Charleston)" to make sure she was doing everything correctly in her first campaign for public office.

Shambaugh on Wednesday said he and McIntire, both Republicans, agreed to take the photograph with Groh, a Democrat. But the chief deputy also said he did not agree with the quote that was published in the advertisement with the photograph and felt that the combination amounted to a public endorsement.

In a signed letter Tuesday to Groh's Republican opponent, Shambaugh said "by using a picture in one of her ads and including an alleged quote by me supporting her candidacy, Gina Groh has unfortunately implied that I endorse her for circuit judge."

"As the next County Sheriff, I do not endorse any candidate that might sit on the bench and decide on important cases," wrote Shambaugh, who is not opposed in the election.

Shambaugh said he didn't want to make "a big stink" about the advertisement, but questioned the final wording of the quote attributed to him and McIntire, who could not be reached for comment.

The quote printed in the advertisement published in the Morgan Messenger said, "We support Gina Groh, Judge Groh has the integrity, intelligence and experience our families need."

"The sheriff and I agreed to take a picture with her to show we worked alongside her," Shambaugh said Wednesday.

Groh said the photograph was taken in the courtroom where she presides in Morgan County on an off day when no hearings were scheduled.

Groh said she suggested the idea of having the photograph taken with the law enforcement officers at a carnival a number of weeks ago, but was not exactly sure when. Both McIntire and Shambaugh are in uniform. Civil service rules restricting campaigning by deputies do not apply to Shambaugh because he is employed at the will and pleasure of McIntire, who is completing his second four-year term.

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