Ex-West Virginia judge says he abides by ethics law lobbying ban | News, Sports, Jobs

CHARLESTON — Evan Jenkins, the former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia, said Thursday that he is complying with state ethics laws intended to prevent the revolving door of elected officials from becoming paid lobbyists.

In a telephone interview Thursday afternoon, Jenkins said his testimony on behalf of Petersburg-based American Wood Products before the House Banking and Insurance Committee on Wednesday and at a public hearing before the Judiciary Committee of the House on Thursday morning, was authorized under West Virginia’s ethics law. .

“I am in full compliance with the law” Jenkins said. “I am not a registered lobbyist and I am fully authorized by law to appear like any other citizen before a committee and before a public hearing. I did not engage in any activity that would violate the law.

According to media reports, Jenkins testified Wednesday before the House Banking and Insurance Committee on Bill 4394, which would reaffirm and strengthen the rule or doctrine of exclusive recourse to workers’ compensation. If passed, the bill would prevent workers injured on the job or their families from seeking damages in court other than what workers’ compensation would cover.

At a public hearing on the bill held Thursday morning by the House Judiciary Committee, Jenkins argued for passage of HB 4394.

“I announced my departure from the Supreme Court to work on behalf of improving West Virginia’s business climate and attracting jobs and keeping jobs in our state. 4394 is doing just that,” Jenkins said. “It puts us on a level playing field…and ensures that we can compete and that we can create jobs in our state.”

The West Virginia Ethics Commission confirmed Thursday that Jenkins is not registered as a lobbyist. The state Ethics Act requires a person paid by a client to defend or against legislation or administrative rules or who spends more than $150 a year on government officials to register as a lobbyist with the ethics committee.

The state code also bars elected or state-appointed officials from lobbying for at least one year after leaving office or resigning. House Bill 2464, passed in 2011, prohibits members of the Legislative Assembly, elected members of the Public Works Board, employees of the will and pleasure of the Legislative Assembly and the executive, to departmental cabinet secretaries, heads of state agencies, and members of the Supreme Court of Appeals against registration as lobbyists.

The law, sometimes known as the Puccio Rule, is named after Larry Puccio, who served as former Gov. Joe Manchin’s chief of staff until January 2010, becoming a paid lobbyist a week after his resignation.

However, the state code stipulates that people who limit their lobbying activities to appearing before legislative committees or public hearings are exempt from registering as lobbyists with the Ethics Commission. Jenkins said he consulted with the Ethics Commission before taking on Allegheny Wood Products as a client.

“I contacted Kim Weber, the executive director of the ethics commission”, Jenkins said. “I told him exactly that I had a client, my client had legislation he was interested in, and was I allowed to appear before a legislative committee or appear at a public hearing? And she said yes, you can.

Jenkins announced earlier this month that he would leave the state’s top court effective Feb. 6. Five days later, it was announced that Jenkins would join Jenkins Fenstermaker PLLC, a Huntington-based law firm founded by Jenkin’s grandfather and where he first worked after earning his law degree.

Jenkins focuses on the relationship between states and federal governments. Jenkins has previous lobbying experience, having worked as general counsel for the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce and as executive director of the West Virginia State Medical Association.

Jenkins is a former member of the West Virginia House of Delegates and the state Senate. Formerly a Democrat, Jenkins switched to Republican and won election to the 3rd district of the United States House of Representatives in 2014 and was a candidate for the United States Senate in the 2018 Republican primary, coming in second to the prosecutor General Patrick Morrisey.

Gov. Jim Justice nominated Jenkins to the Supreme Court in 2018, replacing Robin Davis who resigned after being named in multiple articles of impeachment by the House of Delegates. He won a special election for the seat later the same year to serve the remainder of the 12-year term which ends in 2024.

Several Democratic lawmakers have attacked Jenkins on social media for his committee and open court appearances.

“Just two weeks ago, Evan Jenkins resigned from the WV Supreme Court.” wrote House Minority Whip Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio. “Today he ran for the Legislative Assembly as a LOBBYIST. Really disgusting.

“(Jenkins) resigned from (the Supreme Court) last week and he is pushing to protect big business this week,” Del wrote. State Democratic Party Co-Chair Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha. “I would say there should be a law but I think there already is.”

Jenkins called the statements by Democratic lawmakers a “smoke screen” to distract from the discussion of HB 4394.

“These are nothing more than people opposed to this legislation who don’t like the message. They want to attack the messenger,” Jenkins said. “It’s nothing more than a smokescreen because they don’t like the message. They should know the law and know that I am in full compliance with the law.

Steven Allen Adams can be contacted at [email protected]

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