By Ron Gregory
WILLIAMSON — The debate over filling Mingo County’s vacant Family Court judge position continued Tuesday after a three-day break for the Labor Day weekend.
After Mingo County Clerk “Big Jim” Hatfield sent a letter Friday to Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, her general counsel responded Tuesday. Hatfield had asked for a one-week delay in responding to an order from Tennant to remove the Family Court judge position from the ballot. The position became vacant when Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin promoted former Family Court Judge Miki Thompson to the circuit judge position vacated when former judge Michael Thornsbury pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges.
Tennant originally set the deadline for Tuesday for Hatfield to remove the family court position from the ballot. In her letter, General Counsel E. Ashley Summitt gave Hatfield until Thursday to respond.
Hatfield, who has been adamant in his position that “the good people of Mingo County should elect their own Family Court judge for the next two and a half years,” referred questions in the latest salvo to his personal counsel, Ben White of Chapmanville.
The debate centers on whether Tomblin has the authority to appoint the judge to complete Thompson’s unexpired term. Hatfield maintains that, since the vacancy occurred more than 84 days before the general election, it is up to the voters to decide.
White said he intends to “firmly represent the county clerk’s position that it is the citizens of Mingo County who should choose their own judge.”
Although Summitt says in her letter that the secretary of state’s office did not actually learn of Hatfield’s intention to place the position on the Nov. 4 ballot until they “received a faxed copy” of the proposed ballot from the printer, White said a Mingo deputy county clerk faxed Tennant’s office “during the first week of August” telling them Hatfield intended to include family court judge on the fall ballot.
The attorney for Hatfield added, “The secretary’s general counsel is making all sorts of legal assumptions that we simply don’t agree with. Big Jim believes, and has faith, in the voters of Mingo County.”
White said he would “decide, after consulting with my client, what steps we need to take to protect the public’s right to choose their own family court judge.”