Bunn fits in well on the West Virginia Supreme Court | News, Sports, Jobs
picture by: John McCabe
WHEELING — For Haley Bunn, life is all about starting early and preparing.
As she learned growing up in the small town of Oceana in Wyoming County – population 1,462 – “you have to be early, be ready, and be ready for whatever comes your way, and you do everything work (necessary) to be prepared.”
This approach served her well, as she graduated with honors from West Virginia University in 2007, then earned her law degree from WVU in 2010.
Little did she know that 12 years later she would be the new justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.
Between stints in private practice with the law firm Steptoe & Johnson (2010-12 and 2019-22), Bunn worked as Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia, focusing on the state’s opioid epidemic. Gov. Jim Justice came calling in April when he asked Bunn to accept a Supreme Court nomination.
She agreed and now sits on a court that sees its most senior judge (Judge Beth Walker) on the bench for just six years. It’s a position in which Bunn hopes to leave her mark and pave the way for more women to take on leadership roles.
“It all really comes from a dedication to West Virginia and our way of life and thinking that it’s a wonderful place to live and raise kids, and also to have that commitment to public service,” said she said of accepting the governor’s nomination.
Growing up in Oceana was wonderful, Bunn said. After leaving for college, she returned to the area to begin her legal career with Steptoe & Johnson in Charleston. She remembers traveling to Wyoming County for a hearing soon after and realizing that opioids had taken their toll on her community.
She felt the need to help.
This led her to seek a position in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, where she worked first with U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin and later with U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart, focusing primarily on the opioid epidemic.
“I’m from what isn’t so fondly called ‘Oxiana,'” she said, recalling that trip home when she realized things weren’t the way they were. should be. “I didn’t come back often and I was coming back…it just kinda hit me. This place is under threat. I mean, really, the way of life was under threat and I thought, what can I do to try to help protect this and preserve this and bring (Oceana) back to a thriving community?
“So I said to Booth Goodwin, ‘I want to join your team and fight the opioid epidemic. I want to come and help you do this in any way I can. And I was lucky enough to be able to I started out as just a violent crime and drug addiction prosecutor…then I started working in health care because it was very clear that the issue of prescription (opioid) was what started and spread into everything else, whether it was heroin or fentanyl or whatever.
At the time, the Justice Department was stepping up its efforts to find ways to tackle illicit drugs, launching an Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit. Bunn sought a position in this unit, his position being funded during his last two years of service in the prosecution of health care-related opioid diversion and fraud. She said she believed her efforts to work with the U.S. Attorney’s Office had an impact on helping her home community.
The Court is calling
Bunn settled into everyday life after leaving the U.S. Attorney’s office and returning to Steptoe, where she focused her practice on litigation. She and her husband, Joe, set about raising their daughters. They attended the church in Charleston. A pleasant routine sets in.
And then the Governor of Justice called in early April and offered him the Supreme Court seat previously held by Justice Evan Jenkins. She met the governor and accepted his nomination.
Bunn was sworn in at the end of April and has been working ever since to acclimate himself to the court and his fellow judges – Walker, Chief Justice John Hutchinson and Justices Bill Wooton and Tim Armstead – as they are not just working to restore the reputation of the courtyard. after a tumultuous period a few years ago, but also to launch a new intermediate appeals court and continue to develop the state’s family and drug treatment courts.
Bunn said the administrative end of the state Supreme Court was the most interesting to learn about.
“One of the things I’m really excited about right now is our treatment courts,” she said. “A part of the job that I don’t think I understood before I took up my post as a judge…was the administrative side of the Supreme Court. We have 1,500 employees in West Virginia courts and many different programs that we oversee. One of those programs and a big part of our budget is really our treatment courts. I think a lot of people are familiar with our adult drug treatment court and our juvenile drug treatment court, but we also have a family treatment court.
And these treatment courts lead her back to what landed her in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in 2012 — drugs. Drug treatment courts obviously deal with drug addiction, but the same goes for almost all cases in family treatment courts. Giving parents a way to keep their families together can be a powerful motivator to get sober.
“Once the kids are gone, if your (parental) rights are terminated, what reason do you have to stay sober? … So I commend our circuit court judges who are doing this and I hope the program (grows.) We’re seeing a lot of success,” she said. “Going to treatment court graduations is one of my favorite things about this job. You get to see the participants reunited with their children. It’s part of the process, to reunite the family.
“I sincerely believe that the problem (of drugs) must be approached in a multifaceted way. You can’t get away with a lawsuit, even though it’s absolutely necessary to fight the drug epidemic and to get and keep our communities on track. But you also have to have this therapeutic aspect, the family aspect, you have to give the why. And I think our family treatment courts do that.
As for the high court itself, she sees sunny skies ahead despite the dark clouds some former judges have left behind from their purchases and actions.
“I can say firsthand that (the relationship between the judges) has absolutely changed. And not just in how we deal with each other,” she said. “We get along well, but we are also committed to fostering respect for the court. And I’m not talking about courtesy when you walk into the courtroom; I mean respect as we try to promote an understanding of what the court does and an understanding of the role of the court in our democracy.
This effort is supported by the creation of a learning center for the court.
“I think there’s really a kind of mystery about what’s going on (in court). We want to break that down. The five justices are very committed to fostering respect for the court by fostering understanding of the court and the judiciary,” she said.
What the future holds
Bunn is 36 years old, short in stature but big in presence. She has a quick wit and a sharper wit, which serves her well as a judge. She has made it clear that she plans to run for the seat she now holds in the May 2024 election.
She also acknowledges that while she’s “not a typical judge,” underestimating her would be the wrong thing to do.
“I don’t look like your typical Supreme Court justice. Everyone thinks of an older man with gray hair and a black dress. It’s what you think, but honestly, I think that’s the beauty of our yard right now. We have so many different points of view,” she said. “I think it benefits West Virginia. The result is well-written and well-reasoned reviews. I think we sharpen each other from our different perspectives, but in a respectful and open-minded way.
She also sees the significance her court appointment could have on her own daughters and other young girls throughout West Virginia. She allowed her 7-year-old to invite several friends to her investiture ceremony in May, which she said was “one of my favorite parts of the day.”
“I wanted them to be impressed with the pitch and how great it was, but not be scared and understand what it was all about. And so I really appreciated being able to stand there in front of these ladies who were all dressed up and show them that, even if you don’t tick all the traditional boxes, don’t be afraid to put yourself forward. Go ahead and do it. I loved being part of it.
She is also looking forward to her first full list of pleadings from October, when the lawyers appear before the judges. She thinks she’s “nerdy” in that sense.
“I love watching the lawyers litigate and do a good job and represent their clients diligently. I love that,” she said. “I can still see that on argument days, which is great. questions that often come to mind are evidentiary questions related to rules of evidence, and these are some of my favorite problems.