Cookman appointed to represent the 15th Senatorial District
Governor Earl Ray Tomblin appointed the Honorable Donald H. Cookman to represent the citizens of the 15th Senatorial District filling the vacancy created when former Senator Walt Helmick stepped down to serve as the Commissioner of Agriculture.
Tomblin announced the appointment in a media release on his website Wednesday evening.
“Throughout his years on the bench, Judge Cookman has dedicated himself to the people of the 22nd Judicial Circuit, and I’m confident as a State Senator he will continue to serve West Virginians well,” Tomblin said.
As Senator Walt Helmick moved to his new post as the state's agriculture commissioner in January, he left behind a seat in the West Virginia Senate for the remaining two years of his term.
To fill the vacant seat, two Democratic representatives from each county in Helmick's old 15th District formed a committee that submitted the names of three potential appointees to the governor.
As a result of the 2010 U.S. Census, the 15th District was redrawn during the 2011 redistricting process. The old District 15 included all of Hampshire, Hardy, Morgan, Pendleton, Pocahontas, and Randolph, and part of Berkeley, Grant and Upshur counties. The new District 15 includes all of Hampshire and Morgan and part of Berkeley and Mineral counties.
Pocahontas County is now part of the 11th District, which also includes Pendleton, Randolph, Upshur, Webster and Nicholas counties.
Those nominees submitted for Tomblin's consideration were Cookman, Thomas J. Hawse, of Hardy County, and Mike Ross, of Upshur County.
Other names that were considered—but not submitted to the governor—were Lisa Amoroso, Charles Sheets and Margaret Beckwith.
Most recently, Cookman served as the Chief Judge of the 22nd Judicial Circuit comprised of Hampshire, Hardy and Pendleton Counties. He has served as circuit judge since 1993. His judicial experience includes temporary judicial assignments as a Justice of the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia and sitting as judge in other circuits. In 1971, he began his legal career in private practice in Romney. His public service career includes serving as the Hampshire County Prosecuting Attorney from 1973 thru 1992, and as a Special Prosecuting Attorney in Hardy, Pendleton and Mineral counties.
Cookman also served as President of the West Virginia Judicial Association and as a member and Chairperson of the Judicial Ethics Commission.
Cookman was recently appointed by the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia as one of three judges on the newly created statewide Business Court.
A graduate of Romney High School, Cookman completed his undergraduate studies at West Virginia University before graduating from the West Virginia University College of Law in 1971.
Cookman said his decades of experience in the West Virginia judicial system has shaped his priorities for the upcoming legislative session.
"I'm doing a lot of reading concerning what I think are some of the issues facing the state—the budget, substance abuse and prison overcrowding," Cookman said.
"The Justice Reinvestment Commission just came back with a report showing that—we've known for some time—that we need another prison to cover the increase in people who are being placed there. That's going to be a cost to the taxpayers of $200 million," Cookman continued. "[T]he projected operating expense for a new prison would be $140 million, in addition to that, every five years."
Cookman said he believes the state needs to look at sentencing options beyond penitentiary sentences, pointing to a recent order from the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals requiring probation officers to be trained in providing judges with risk assessments of defendants.
"Of course, the judge isn't mandated to follow whatever that risk assessment says," explained Cookman, "but it give the judge another tool to determine whether or not an individual is a person that needs to be in the penitentiary, or maybe some type of alternative sentence would meet their needs and, more particularly, society's needs—as opposed to putting everybody in the penitnetiary."
The newly-appointed State Senator said he intends to visit all nine counties of the former 15th District to get feedback from individual voters and county commissions about their own concerns for the state legislature.
Cookman is encouraging his constituents to approach him with their legislative concerns by calling him at 304-671-2346 or visiting his office in the education suite of the West Virginia Senate.
The State Senator said he hopes to serve in the legislature beyond the two-years for which he has been appointed and will seek reelection for the newly-drawn 15th District
Cookman resides in Romney with his wife Paula Jean. The couple has three children and three grandchildren.
The 81st West Virginia Legislature convened on January 9 for the swearing-in of newly-elected members and to elect its constitutional officers
Both the West Virginia Senate and House of Delegates have adjourned until Wednesday, February 13.