MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The Chairman of the Monongalia County Public Defender’s Corporation wants to earn a spot as a Circuit Court Judge.

Veteran Morgantown attorney Michael Simms continues to speak with voters and local lawmakers discussing his goals if elected in the three-candidate race in Division 1 in Monongalia County.

Simms brings close to two decades of legal experience to the race, where he has expressed to voters that he not only has the qualifications for the bench but he also has the temperament.

“People need certainty and they need finality, they come to circuit court because they couldn’t work it out out of court, it’s probably the worst day in their lives,” said Simms. “So if they have a (me as a) judge, who they’ll know is going to apply the law fairly, everyone needs to be heard,” he said.

A priority for Simms is finding ways to positively impact the drug epidemic within North Central West Virginia. To do that, he has called for the establishment of a drug court, similar to a family court or juvenile court in other judicial districts. As the first chairperson of the Monongalia County Public Defender’s Corporation who has seen his fair share of defenses related to drug offenses, Simms feels this would be a good step in the right direction.

“It’s a multi-factorial problem, they’re in an intersection of a lot of different professions there, social work and otherwise, but one of the things that I want to do is a family treatment court,” said Simms on WAJR’s Talk of the Town. “We have two treatment courts already, we have those for the other two seats, and for this Division One seat, I want to start a family treatment court,” he said.

In his 17 years of experience as an attorney, Simms has also served veterans as a pro-bono legal representative for Aspire Services and has worked with clients on a pro-bono basis outside of his work as a public defender. In that time, he has also served clients who have both been first-time offenders and repeat criminals who could very well see Simms on multiple occasions. If he’s elected, Simms aims to use his experience to be able to determine which sentence is best for an individual.

“I’m focused on keeping our community safe, I’m also focused on accountability though,” said Simms. “If you’re suffering from substance abuse disorder, if you’re proactive and you’re accountable, that type of person may be a much better candidate (for parole) than someone who is just here to harm our community essentially, you have to be able to differentiate,” he said.

If he’s elected, Simms also told voters that he will also try to explore options for legal mentorship programs, so residents can have the best legal representation possible, regardless of their circumstances. With the 2024 primary election coming up in May, Simms wants voters to hit the polls and think of his experience and temperament when at the ballot box.

“I’ll be a judge for everybody in this county, my promise is to hear everybody, to be fair and even with everybody,” said Simms. “I don’t care what your party affiliation is, I don’t care what your socio-economic status is, you’re going to get a fair hearing, and I’ll apply the law equally to everybody,” he said.

Current Division 1 Judge Paul Gwaltney and attorney Natalie Sal are also running for the seat.

Early voting for the primary election begins on May 1 and runs through May 11. Election Day is May 14.