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Berkeley Co. judge to hear state campaign-funding case

August 06, 2012|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthew.umstead@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — A Berkeley County judge has been assigned to hear a state Supreme Court case involving a pilot public campaign-funding program that he said in December he would comply with when he was mulling a possible 2012 election bid for the high court.

Twenty-third Judicial Circuit Judge Christopher C. Wilkes, along with fellow state trial judges James P. Mazzone (1st Circuit) and J. Lewis Marks Jr. (15th Circuit), were assigned to the public campaign-funding case involving Republican state Supreme Court candidate Allen H. Loughry II last week, according to court documents.

Wilkes, Mazzone and Marks replaced Supreme Court justices Robin Jean Davis, Brent D. Benjamin and Margaret L. Workman in the case after they disqualified themselves, according to a scheduling order filed Wednesday by the high court.

In his petition filed July 30, Loughry asked the state Supreme Court to compel the state to release “rescue” funds as part of the state Legislature-authorized pilot public-financing program for the high court’s judicial election.

Secretary of State Natalie E. Tennant, the State Election Commission and other state officials are named as defendants in the petition. Loughry already has received $350,000 in public funds from the State Election Commission, according to reports filed with Tennant’s office.

While Wilkes ultimately decided not to file candidacy papers for state Supreme Court in January, the judge notified Tennant’s office the month before that he was qualified to run for the office, and had complied with and would continue to comply with all requirements of the Supreme Court of Appeals Public Campaign Financing Pilot Program, “including contribution and expenditure restrictions.”

Wilkes went on to accept more than $2,000 in “qualifying” contributions in his attempt to obtain public financing for his campaign, according to reports filed with Tennant’s office.

The pilot program requires that a Supreme Court candidate who wishes to participate in the public campaign funding program collect between $35,000 and $50,000 in qualifying contributions, according to state code.

In early February, attorney Michael E. Caryl, Wilkes’ campaign treasurer, notified Tennant’s office that the judge had decided not to run for the high court in the 2012 election. Caryl also submitted a $1,088 check for deposit in the Supreme Court of Appeals Public Campaign Financing Fund in accordance with the state public campaign funding law, according to the letter.

The amount was the remaining balance of qualifying contributions that were made to Wilkes’ campaign after subtracting expenditures, according to Caryl’s Feb. 6 letter to Tennant.

Wilkes’ departure from the race allowed fellow 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge John C. Yoder and Loughry, a longtime law clerk, to avoid a contested race in the Republican primary in May.

Yoder, whose courtroom is next to Wilkes’ in the Berkeley County Judicial Center, is not participating in the public campaign-financing program.

In June, Yoder reported receiving $9,618 in contributions, according to his post-primary report.

In addition to the $350,000 he received from the State Election Commission, Loughry received another $62,050 in contributions, according to his campaign finance reports.

In her bid for re-election, Davis, a Democrat, reported personal loans to her campaign totaling $360,000 and $253,339 in contributions, according to reports filed with Tennant’s office.

Fellow Democrat Letitia “Tish” Chafin reported $208,478 in contributions and a $1 million personal loan to her campaign, according to her report.

The Associated Press reported this week that the state Supreme Court is expected to act on Loughry’s petition once it receives replies by Thursday.

Yoder, Loughry, Davis and Chafin are running for the two open seats on the high court to be decided Nov. 6.

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