The Voice of West Virginia
West Virginia’s Senate Judiciary chairman says he will run for the state Supreme Court.
Senator Charles Trump, R-Morgan, announced he’ll vie for the Supreme Court seat a day after an announcement by incumbent Justice John Hutchison that he will serve out his term through the end of 2024 and then retire.
“I’ve decided to announce, and I’m choosing your platform to do it, that I’m going to be a candidate in 2024 for the open seat on the Supreme Court of Appeals,” Trump said today on MetroNews’ “Talkline.” “I think I can make a contribution to the important work of the court and the judiciary.
“I will say, this wasn’t something I was planning. I think Justice Hutchison surprised many people, including me, yesterday with his announcement. And I wouldn’t have considered running against Justice Hutchison were he choosing to stand for re-election. But in the wake of his announcement, I think I bring potentially a skill set that could be of benefit to the court.”
Hutchison announced Thursday he will retire at the end of the term on Dec. 31, 2024, not running for re-election.
Hutchison, who was appointed to the court in 2018 and then won election in 2020, wrote in a letter that he wants to give anyone else considering a run for the court adequate notice.
“I believe that the Court and others need to know of my intentions so that you can plan appropriately,” Hutchison wrote.
So Trump is taking that opening.
This will be one of a couple of Supreme Court races on 2024 West Virginia ballots. The seat held by Justice Haley Bunn, who was appointed to fill the unexpired term of Evan Jenkins, is also up then.
Trump, 62, served in the House of Delegates from 1992 to 2006. He successfully ran for the state Senate in 2014, the year Republicans took over the majority from Democrats. He has been chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee since the 2015 regular session.
West Virginia’s judicial system races are non-partisan on ballots. Judicial elections are generally during primaries. Full Supreme Court terms are 12 years.
“You know, I always try in whatever I do to be fair and impartial. And those are requirements for anyone holding judicial office,” Trump said Friday. “I love the law, always have, and have always been willing even as a legislator to listen to multiple points of view and both sides of arguments.
“And I think all of that would lend itself well to service in the judicial branch.”
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PHILIPPI, W.Va. — A new scenic route has been unveiled in Barbour County as part of the West Virginia Mountain Rides program.
Gov. Jim Justice joined state tourism and transportation leaders Friday at Blue and Gray Park in Philippi to welcome the Birdeye Bend route.
The route stretches 173.4 miles in the northern part of the state by taking Route 7 from Morgantown, down Route 72 to Parsons then Route 219 to Elkins, out to Phillipi, Clarksburg and looping back to Morgantown on Route 20.
It’s about a 4-hour and 19-minute round trip drive.
“This route is right in the heart of West Virginia,” said Randy Damron with the state Department of Transportation.
Birdeye Bend is the latest of four scenic routes designed to show off the state’s country roads. The routes are specifically selected to appeal to both cars and motorcycles.
The goal is complete 11 scenic routes total.
Damron said the program is through a partnership with the state Department of Tourism.
“Our guys have gone out with a magnifying glass and made sure these roads are in tip-top shape — potholes, gravels, striping and guardrail and so forth — and tourism is our promotional agent,” he explained.
Ruby said the roads are selected for people both in and out of state who want to explore West Virginia’s beauty.
“You see people here all the time. Not only do we see a lot of West Virginians traveling around, but we’re starting to get people from across the country and around the world,” Ruby said.
Ruby credited Gov. Jim Justice for pushing for tourism leaders to welcome more people to the Mountain State.
“The governor said we want routes. We want routes all over the state. We want you to find the right businesses,” she said. “He keeps saying do more, do more. These are the types of projects that are raising those numbers.”
The other three routes announced as part of the West Virginia Mountain Rides program includes Senaca Skyway which runs from Lewisburg to Davis, Capitol Circle which runs from Charleston down to Logan and out to Beckley, and Cranberry Corridor from Gauley Bridge to Lewisburg.
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BELLE, W.Va. — A Kanawha County man who allegedly stole social security benefits from his dead mother could face additional charges pending an autopsy report from the state Medical Examiner’s Office.
Michael Robert Johnson, 41, of Belle, was charged Thursday with obtaining money under false pretenses after investigators discovered a decomposing body inside a home he had been living in with his mother. Deputies with the legal process division were there to serve an eviction notice for Johnson’s mother Peggy Johson.
Johnson told authorities his mother died in Dec. 2022 and that he had been collecting benefits from her since then.
“She typically gets about $1,000 a month. Michael continued to receive those after her death and has accumulated about $5,000-$6,000 of money that was taken from her social security benefits and used,” Sgt. Joshua Lester with the Kanawha County Sheriff’s Office told MetroNews.
The body was “unidentifiable” due to the amount of decomposition, Lester said. Deputies are hoping to receive more information Friday as to who the person is and how they died.
“They’re going to hopefully conduct an autopsy today and we’re hoping that that leads us to some more information where we can at least identify who that person is and see if we can confirm if that is in fact his mother Peggy and then we’ll be going further from there,” Lester said.
Johnson is considered a person of interest in connection with the body that was found inside the home.
When investigators arrived at the home Thursday, they noticed something was “off,” Lester said.
“There was some things that weren’t right. They weren’t getting answers at the door, they were noticing a lot of activities at house as far as smells, flies, things that were not common that are common usually in death scenes,” he said.
Johnson was found hiding in a closet. Lester could not confirm where the body was located inside the home.
“I know that he had still been living about his day-to-day business while the body had been there,” he said.
Lester said deputies are also working to find out if the mother died in December like Johnson told them.
Johnson is currently being held at the South Central Regional Jail on a $2,500 bond.
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia Symphony Orchestra plans to celebrate its 40th annual Symphony Sunday event on the University of Charleston lawn.
This year’s theme is “There’s No Place Like Home: A Ruby Celebration” to commemorate 40 years.
“It’s our 40th anniversary and that is a ruby anniversary. Of course, Dorothy wore ruby slippers in the Wizard of Oz,” said WVSO President Joe Tackett.
The event features live music, food, arts and crafts and games for kids. Tackett said there’s something for the whole family to enjoy.
“I really think of it as the beginning of summer for the whole community and also a homecoming in a way. We have one patron that calls it her ‘family reunion’ because she comes to see all of her neighbors and family members. It’s really a great community event,” he said.
The Symphony plans to announce its next music director at Sunday’s event.
“The 11th music director in our history will be at the podium,” Tackett said.
The event runs from 1 p.m. to 10 p.m. The day will cap off with a grand finale performance by the WVSO and a fireworks display over the state Capitol.
A special VIP reception will be held from 6-10 p.m. For a price of $75 each, guests will have exclusive access to watch the performances from atop UC’s rotunda and patio. Hor d’oeuvres, beer, wine and champagne will be served. Tickets can be purchased by calling the WVSO at 304-957-9876, by emailing Amanda McDonald at [email protected] or by visiting wvsymphony.org.
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Recently named Monongalia County Circuit Judge Paul Gwaltney will be sworn in Friday afternoon at the Monongalia County Justice Center.
Gov. Jim Justice appointed Gwaltney to replace Judge Susan Tucker, who retired on May 11.
Gwaltney graduated from the WVU College of Law in 2003.
Gwaltney has in recent years been a criminal defense attorney.
Senior Status Circuit Judge Russell Clawges will deliver the oath of office at the the ceremony set for 1 p.m. Friday.
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Today on MetroNews This Morning:
–A grim discovery in Kanawha County where a man was living with a corpse for six months
–Potentially new life for the Pleasants Power Station
–Two major utilities seek rate hikes from the PSC
–In Sports, an extra inning affair at the state baseball tourney and WVU prepares to open play in the NCAA Baseball Tournament
Listen to “MetroNews This Morning 6-2-23” on Spreaker.
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The U.S. Senate passed a debt ceiling bill, addressing the issue just before the country would have defaulted on its debts.
Senators voted 63-36 to pass the bill. Both senators Joe Manchin, a Democrat, and Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican, voted yes.
The bill now goes to President Biden, who has said he will sign it.
Federal officials had said the United States would reach the x-date, representing the day the federal government runs out of means to pay its existing debts, by early next week. If the United States would default on its debt, economists warn of dire effects on the economy.
“I am very glad we did the responsible thing and took action to prevent our nation from facing default. In doing so, we were also able to advance policies, including SNAP work requirements, clawing back unspent COVID funds, and the cut to the IRS budget, which are all responsible and necessary actions good for West Virginia and the entire country,” Capito stated after the vote.
President Biden and administration representatives negotiated with Speaker McCarthy and his team, announcing a compromise bill this past weekend.
The deal would suspend the debt ceiling, currently at $31.4 trillion, until Jan. 1, 2025.
The legislation also includes caps for the next two years of nonefense discretionary spending.
Furthermore, the bill would haul back about $28 billion in unspent covid relief funds, eliminate $1.4 billion in IRS funding and place work requirements for people up to 55 years old to receive benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program plus Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, with exceptions for veterans and homeless people.
The bill has an aspect of particular interest in West Virginia, expedited approval for federal regulation of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which crosses nine counties to deliver natural gas to eastern markets.
“I am proud to announce that we have finally secured the completion of the Mountain Valley Pipeline and have done so with broad, bipartisan support. For more than nine months, I have worked tirelessly to build consensus and garner the support necessary to complete MVP,” Manchin said in a statement after the late-night vote.
Senators rejected an amendment by Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, a Democrat who proposed removing the Mountain Valley Pipeline provisions from the legislation.
The Mountain Valley Pipeline is a proposed 303.5-mile interstate natural gas pipeline. The pipeline’s developers have said they intend to bring the pipeline into service in the second half of 2023.
The $6.6 billion pipeline project first got authorization from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 2017, but its completion has been delayed by regulatory hurdles and court challenges.
The section of the debt ceiling bill dealing with the pipeline says, “The Congress hereby finds and declares that the timely completion of construction and operation of the Mountain Valley Pipeline is required in the national interest.”
That section goes on to say Congress ratifies and approves all permits and other approvals required for construction and initial operation of the Mountain Valley Pipeline. The section specifies that the approvals should occur no later than 21 days after passage of the bill. The bill goes on to say that no court would have jurisdiction to review the federal regulatory actions.
Environmental groups contend the pipeline will affect forest habitats, result in runoff to streams and disrupt outdoor recreation. There’s also an overriding concern about the effects of fossil fuels like natural gas on climate change.
And the groups object to due process in the court system being shortcircuited through the congressional action.
“The Mountain Valley Pipeline has repeatedly failed to demonstrate that it can be constructed without gross violations of the law,” stated Chelsea Barnes, director of government affairs for the Appalachian Voices advocacy group.
“This action by Congress and the White House to attempt to skirt environmental laws, force the issuance of permits and strip the courts of their authority is an abuse of power and a denial of environmental justice.”
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A year ago in the Class A title game, Wahama squandered a late one-run lead and fell to Charleston Catholic, 6-5.
The two teams met again Thursday in the second Class A semifinal at GoMart Ballpark, and the White Falcons flipped the script this time around, scoring a 4-1 win over the Irish in 11 innings.
No. 3 Wahama (26-10) advances to face top seed Tyler Consolidated in Saturday’s title game.
“This team wanted this win. Not just getting back to a championship, but facing Catholic last year and down to the last out, it didn’t happen for us,” WHS head coach Billy Zuspan said. “Being able to get it done and get another opportunity to try to put that fifth title in Wahama’s cabinet.”
After dazzling efforts from each starting pitcher, Wahama gained the lead in the top of the eighth. Nathan Manuel reached on the game’s first error and after he advanced to second, Ethan Gray belted a two-run double to left that left the Irish (28-8) trailing 1-0 when they came to bat in the eighth.
Wahama starter Aaron Henry recorded the fifth strikeout of his shutout showing, before having to be replaced by Bryce Zuspan due to reaching the 110-pitch limit.
The White Falcons’ first error allowed DiCocco to reach, though a pop up for the second out left Wahama in position to win. That appeared to be the case when Jeffrey Reynolds lifted a fly ball toward third base that went into foul territory, but was dropped for what would’ve been in the game’s final out. With new life, Catholic capitalized and Reynolds’ walk prolonged the contest.
Gage Tawney followed with a run-scoring single to left that pulled the Irish even and sent the game to the ninth.
Wahama managed a hit in both the ninth and 10th innings, but couldn’t muster another run.
To start the home half of the 10th, Wahama freshman Aden Young surrendered a single to Gannon Morris. With one out, Young issued a base-on-balls to Zaden Ranson.
That put the winning run in scoring position, and Morris attempted to score it when Reynolds followed with a single, only to be thrown out at the plate after left fielder Hayden Lloyd was on the mark.
“That one was on the money,” coach Zuspan said. “We had some good defensive plays all night and the pitching was phenomenal on both sides.”
Young induced a fly ball to left off the bat of Xander Allara for the final out of the 10th, setting the stage for Wahama’s three runs in the next frame.
“They have a tremendous outfield and we knew if we put the ball in the air, we were going to have trouble,” Irish head coach Will Bobinger said. “We hit some pretty good ones, but they got in the air and they have an outfield that covers everything.”
Eli Rickard singled to start the inning off Morris, who had come on for DiCocco after he, too, reached the 110-pitch mark. Young’s sacrifice bunt put the go-ahead run in scoring position, and Zuspan brought it in with a well-placed single that worked its way through the right side, allowing Rickard to score.
Later in the 11th, with two outs, Henry ripped a double that scored Zuspan and Manuel hit a triple to left-center, allowing Henry to score what proved to be the game’s final run.
“It was definitely nice to have a little more cushion going into getting the last three outs,” coach Zuspan said. “Felt a little more comfortable, but those last outs are always hard to get.”
Young hit two batters in Catholic’s half of the 11th, but got DiCocco to hit a liner to left for the game’s final out.
“If you’re a baseball fan, you got your money’s worth tonight,” coach Zuspan said. “Two quality teams that went out there and played really well. We scored a few more runs and we had some timely hits, especially late. We had a lead and gave the lead up, but we finally got the lead we needed and we’re happy to be moving on.”
Henry, who started last season’s title game and had a strong showing before having to be lifted as a result of his pitch count, issued six walks but limited CCHS to one hit.
He was matched by DiCocco, who threw eight frames of three-hit ball, surrendering only the one unearned run. The sophomore walked three and had 12 strikeouts in a no decision.
“When I get an opposing pitcher that’s throwing well, it makes me want to throw even better,” Henry said.
Morris allowed six hits in three innings.
Wahama’s Logan Roach was 2-for-6 and the only player to record more than one hit in.a game that had 13.
“It was a great game,” Bobinger said. “Both teams battled all the way.”
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Last December, residents of West Virginia and 12 other states were in danger of seeing their Christmas lights go dark. PJM Interconnection, which operates the power grid for 13 northeastern states, warned that a severe cold spell was draining power supplies and rolling blackouts were possible.
Fortunately, we made it through with the lights still on, and one of the reasons was the coal-fired Pleasants Power Station along the Ohio River in Pleasants County cranked up to 91 percent capacity. That was a critical contribution to the grid by a power station that was just a few months away from shutting down.
Plant operator Energy Harbor wants to go green. It notified PJM last year that it planned to shut down the plant as of June 1, 2023. However, that deadline came and went because Energy Harbor notified PJM that the plant should not be retired just yet. As our Brad McElhinny reported, the plant is going into “mothball” status, which means it won’t be producing power, but it will be maintained.
Pleasants County Commission President Jay Powell, who has fought tirelessly to keep the plant operating, believes this is a win since another company—Omnis Fuel Technologies—is interested in taking over the plant and keeping it operational by converting it from coal- to hydrogen-powered.
On the local level, this would be good news for Pleasants County and the 150 people who work at the plant. However, it would also be important for grid stability. Just yesterday, PJM President and CEO Manu Asthana testified before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources (Chaired by West Virginia’s Joe Manchin), where he raised concerns about the reliability of the grid.
“New generation in the queue is largely intermittent, so we need multiple megawatts to replace one megawatt of retiring generation,” he testified. “And new generation is coming online slower than anticipated.”
Asthana said state and federal governments should adopt policies that “slow down the retirement or restriction of existing generation until replacement generation is deployed and operational at scale.” That means the country needs to pause its rush to retire existing coal-fired power plants.
The Biden administration is pushing out a policy through the EPA that will shut down coal and natural gas power plants in the next 10-15 years unless they can figure out an economical way to sequester carbon emissions.
Asthana told the committee that instead of “date certain retire or comply” orders, government policies should hold off on retirements until “adequate replacement capacity is installed and operating.”
Climate change is real, but so are threats to grid reliability due to increased demand and traditional power plant closures. Even climate change activists should realize how much public support they will lose when there are rolling blackouts because intermittent generation cannot keep up with demand.
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BELLE, W.Va. — A sheriff’s department process server and Belle police heading to a Kanawha County residence to serve an eviction notice end up finding a man and his dead mother’s body inside. Investigators learned that the man found hiding inside the home had been claiming social security benefits that belonged to his mother.
Michael Robert Johnson, 41, of Belle, has been charged with obtaining money by false pretenses.
The Kanawha County Sheriff’s Department said they noticed some suspicions about the home in the 400 block of Fifth Street when they arrived to serve the notice.
Belle police went inside the house and found the decomposing body. A search warrant was then obtained by sheriff’s deputies.
According to a criminal complaint filed in Kanawha County Magistrate Court, the woman’s body found in the residence “appeared to have been deceased for a long time and was badly decomposed.”
After discovering the body, law enforcement found Johnson hiding in a closet. Authorities said they detained him and then interviewed him.
Johnson told deputies he had been living with his mother for about two or three years and he had wrongfully claimed between $5,000 to $6,000 in benefits that were meant for her.
Court records said Johnson’s mother had died at the home in December 2022. The body has been obtained by the West Virginia State Medical Examiner’s Office.
Johnson is currently being held at the South Central Regional Jail.
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