Hailey Bunn sworn in as newest justice of West Virginia Supreme Court

Hailey Bunn was sworn in as the newest justice on the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals on Wednesday in a private ceremony after being appointed by Governor Jim Justice (R) earlier in the month to fill a vacancy created by Evan Jenkins’ departure.

A public ceremony will be held on May 12, but Bunn will begin hearing oral arguments on cases on Tuesday.

Bunn is a former federal prosecutor; she was an assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia’s criminal division from 2012 to 2019.

She worked primarily with drug distribution cases and was appointed by the U.S. Department of Justice to an Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit in 2017.

Drug case experience needed

Bunn’s expertise with drug cases may be sorely needed in West Virginia, which has had one of the highest opioid abuse and overdose rates in the country.

In 2018, the last year data was available, West Virginia had 42.4 opioid overdose deaths per 100,000 population, the highest in the U.S.

In contrast, the average rate for the U.S. as a whole was less than half of West Virginia’s rate, or 20.7 per 100,000 people.

West Virginia also had the highest non-medical use of opioids among 19 to 25-year-olds, which means abuse of opioids are a huge problem for the state.

Bunn’s background

The vacancy to which Bunn was appointed will last until 2024, and Bunn was able to avoid a special election in November because of a new law passed in the legislature allowing appointed judges to remain on the bench until the next regular election.

“Haley will be a strong conservative voice on the court,” Justice said at the time of her appointment. “She understands the importance of faith, traditional values, and law and order. Those things are the backbone of West Virginia.”

Bunn’s family on both sides also has ties to the coal mining industry, which is a major part of West Virginia’s economy. Her husband’s family operated coal mines for decades.

As a prosecutor, Bunn prosecuted West Virginia doctors who illegally prescribed opioids, as well as opioid dealers and distributors.

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