Given the cloud hanging over Wendy Elswick’s career, it is unlikely Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin will appoint her to fill a vacancy in the West Virginia House of Delegates, even though her name is one of three suggested to the governor.
Not getting the appointment may be the least of Elswick’s disappointments during the next few months, however. She also faces losing her license to practice law in the Mountain State.
Earlier this summer, Delegate Josh Stowers, D-Lincoln, resigned his post to accept a job in state Treasurer John Perdue’s office. Because Stowers is a Democrat, Tomblin must appoint someone from that party to fill the vacancy until the next election. Elswick is one of three people whose names were submitted by the Democrats’ 22nd Delegate District Executive Committee.
At first glance, she might appear to be a good candidate. A resident of the 22nd Delegate District, she is an assistant state attorney general who formerly served as a public defender in Kanawha County.
Therein lies a question about Elswick, however. Earlier this year, the state Office of Disciplinary Counsel asked the state Supreme Court to suspend Elswick’s law license.
It is alleged that while she was a public defender during the 2000s, Elswick hid evidence involved in the appeal of a man who had been convicted of murdering two women. Elswick asked to be taken off his case in 2005.
Supreme Court justices will hold a hearing on Elswick in September. She insists she is innocent of the allegations.
Again, Tomblin is unlikely to appoint her to fill the House of Delegates vacancy. Governors generally avoid controversy in making such decisions.
But Elswick remains a member of Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s staff, though she got the post during his predecessor’s administration.
Whether she remains in it should depend on the outcome of the Supreme Court hearing. If justices determine Elswick knowingly engaged in improper conduct as a public defender, they will have no choice but to suspend her law license.
Morrisey’s staff, especially those in high-ranking positions such as assistant attorney general, cannot retain the trust of West Virginians if ethical lapses such as Elswick is accused of are proven. If the Supreme Court suspends her law license, Morrisey should fire her.