State GOP appeals court ruling that reinstated ousted county chairman

The West Virginia Republican Party is asking the state Supreme Court to overturn a lower court ruling that the former president overstepped her bounds by ousting an elected chairman of a county party committee.

The state’s GOP argues that the courts generally stay clear of intraparty disputes.

“The case, at its core, is a classic intraparty dispute between the governing and subordinate committees of the West Virginia Republican Party,” attorneys Marc Williams and Shaina Massey wrote on behalf of the state’s GOP.

Melody Potter

The case concerns the 2019 impeachment of Rob Cornelius by then-GOP chairwoman Melody Potter as chairman of Wood County. The Secretary of State’s office then accepted Potter’s nomination of six new Wood County GOP members, including a newly appointed chairman.

Rob Cornelius

Cornelius had openly criticized Potter and the party’s relationship with Governor Jim Justice, a Republican who had been elected for the first time as a Democrat.

Cornelius filed suit just weeks after these events. Kanawha Circuit Judge Joanna Tabit ruled in favor of Cornelius earlier this year. Last month, the judge expanded on her findings in a written order.

Potter had argued that the state party statutes gave him the power to expel Cornelius, both as a county committee member and as chairman. He had been elected by voters to the board of directors and chosen by other members to be president.

Tabit concluded that the power to revoke must come with due process, and that did not happen.

‘Respondent Melody Potter’s reliance on the SREC Bylaws for the process used in its attempt to remove the petitioner from his elected office as a member of the Wood County Republican Executive Committee was fundamentally unfair and overturned the decision of the voters of Wood County in the petitioner’s election. at this desk,” Tabit wrote.

Mark Harris

Potter resigned from his position on January 11, 2021. Last March, the state’s GOP Executive Committee selected Raleigh County’s Mark Harris for the remainder of the term. Tabit’s order asks Harris to comply with its terms.

The state’s GOP filed its appeal on March 11, saying “the circuit court erred in exercising jurisdiction over a nonjusticiable, purely political dispute regarding the management and procedures of a violating political party.” long-established law in West Virginia”.

The appeal argues that “for more than a century, the courts of West Virginia have refused to exercise jurisdiction to settle infighting or otherwise intervene in the partisan disputes that tend to arise within political parties of this State”.

The appeal cites the Republican Executive Committee v Wetzel County Court from 1910, when judges found that resolutions of such disputes were best resolved by the political parties themselves.

A more recent case, Schadler v. Mineral County Republican Executive Committee of 2012, is also cited. This case involved a county party leader who was removed from office by other county committee members for advertisements supporting a Democrat.

Ousted party leader Bob Schadler lost a case in circuit court and then appealed to the state Supreme Court, which in 2012 issued a memorandum ruling denying his claim.

The Supreme Court cited precedents, political committees have sweeping powers to regulate parties, and the courts generally respect this power. “Because the statute is silent on the issue of removal, and because of our well-established policy of not interfering in intra-party disputes, we affirm the circuit court’s refusal to grant declaratory relief to petitioner “, concluded the Supreme Court.

The state’s GOP appeal in the current case suggests that Cornelius chose to side with the state party and should be bound by its rules.

Judge Tabit ordered the party to recognize Cornelius as a member of the Wood County Republican Executive Committee and as chairman of the committee. The judge also ordered the Secretary of State’s office to accept a list of committee members that had been provided by Cornelius, thereby removing the membership provided by Potter.

The West Virginia GOP is scheduled to meet this weekend in Huntington for its winter meeting.

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