Former justice returning to W.Va.'s top court

John O'Brien Sep. 10, 2008, 8:22pm


CHARLESTON, W.Va. (Legal Newsline) - Former West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Tom McHugh will once again take a spot on the highest court in the state.

Chief Justice Spike Maynard tabbed McHugh on Wednesday to replace Justice Joseph Albright, still recovering from July surgery on his esophagus. The decision to pick McHugh, who served on the Court from 1981-1997, was called "the best thing for the entire state" by Justice Robin Davis.

McHugh clerked for former Justice Harlan Calhoun for more than two years and served as the Chief Judge of Kanawha County Circuit Court before being elected to the Supreme Court in 1980 as a Democrat.

"I think the Chief Justice elected the finest jurist available to sit on behalf of Justice Albright," Justice Larry Starcher said. "I know that Justice Albright will be pleased."

Albright desperately wanted to participate in the fall term, offering to watch the proceedings online in his hospital bed in Pittsburgh while connected vocally to the courtroom by telephone. Halfway through Tuesday, the first day of the term, he decided he should be more focused on his health.

"While my powers of analysis are fully intact, it appears to be preferable for me to concentrate on the healing of my body and the restoration of my physical abilities," he said in a statement.

McHugh agreed Albright's health is more important.

"The important thing is for Justice Albright to have a speedy recovery," McHugh said. "I greatly respect the Court. It is an honor to sit in Justice Albright's place during his period of recovery."

During his time on the court, McHugh served as chief justice for five years. Since retiring in 1997, he has worked for the Charleston firm Allen Guthrie McHugh & Thomas. He will begin hearing cases on Friday.

"Justice Tom McHugh is extremely busy with mediation and a very active law practice, and it is a real sacrifice for him to stop all those activities, give up the income and come back to serve once again on the Supreme Court," said Maynard, who is spending his last term on the Court. He lost in May's Democratic primary.

Albright plans to retake his spot on the bench in January. He was elected to a 12-year term in 2000.

"I am extremely happy that Justice Albright is improving," Maynard said. "He is improving dramatically.

"Anyone who knows Joe Albright knows he is a very strong and determined individual, a fighter, and hopefully he will make a full and speedy recovery and be back at court in January. We wish him well."

Arguments that were postponed because of Albright's decision have already been rescheduled, though the Court had to cancel a Sept. 23 trip to Marshall University.

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