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Judge to replace former West Virginia State Sen. Walt Helmick

Donald H. Cookman of Hampshire County was the 15th Senate District's Democratic Executive Committee's top choice to complete term

January 23, 2013|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthewu@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has appointed circuit judge Donald H. Cookman of Hampshire County to replace former West Virginia State Sen. Walt Helmick, who resigned to become the state’s next commissioner of agriculture.

“Throughout his years on the bench, Judge Cookman has dedicated himself to the people of the 22nd Judicial Circuit and I’m confident as a State Senator he will continue to serve West Virginians well,” Tomblin said in a news release.

Helmick resigned from his 15th Senate District seat last week, but his four-year Senate term does not expire until 2014.

The 15th Senate District was redrawn after Helmick’s election because of the 2010 census and now only includes three of the nine counties from the old district — Berkeley, Morgan and Hampshire. While the newly drawn district also includes most of Mineral County, about 60 percent of the voters are in Berkeley County, a Berkeley County Democratic Party leader has said.

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Cookman, who served on the state trial court bench since 1993, is the first state senator from Hampshire County since Vernon C. Whitacre, who served from 1983 to 1988, according to the West Virginia Blue Book.

Cookman was the 15th Senate District’s Democratic Executive Committee’s top choice last week to complete Helmick’s unexpired term. Former state senators Mike Ross of Upshur County and Thomas J. Hawse III of Hardy County were the other candidates submitted for Tomblin’s consideration.

While the newly appointed senator could have come from several counties in the old 15th District, the individual cannot be from Berkeley County because state Sen. Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, was elected last fall to the other district seat. Democrats did not field a candidate last year to run against Blair, who easily defeated Constitution Party candidate Dan Litten. 

Supporters of Cookman’s appointment have noted his judicial background as being an asset to ongoing debate on what the state should do to address prison crowding, the county’s rising jail bills and related criminal justice issues.

Cookman most recently has served as the chief judge of the 22nd Judicial Circuit comprised of Hampshire, Hardy and Pendleton counties. He has served as circuit judge since 1993 and was the Hampshire County prosecuting attorney from 1973 to 1992.

Cookman is following in his father’s footsteps to Charleston, where the late James B. Cookman served in the House of Delegates from 1967 to 1974.

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