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Joanna Tabit




Marshall University, 1979-1983, B.B.A. in Business Management, magna cum laude 
West Virginia University College of Law, 1983-1986, J.D.


Employment History
Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia - Personal law clerk to Chief Justice Thomas E. McHugh; conducted research and prepared draft opinions for Justice McHugh; 1986-1988


Shuman, Annand & Poe - Associate; researched prepared and argued motions and briefs; conducted depositions; 1988-1989 

Attorney General of West Virginia - Deputy, Senior Assistant, and Assistant Attorney General, Appellate Division; responsible for managing the State's appellate docket; briefed and argued scores of cases before the Supreme Court of Appeals of WV and the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and Supreme Court of the United States; represented state agencies, prosecutors and judges in original jurisdiction matters; 1989-1992 


Steptoe & Johnson PLLC, Member and associate attorney; tried and litigated cases statewide in variety of practice areas including medical malpractice, product liability, sexual harassment, deliberate intent, gender and age discrimination; 1992-2014


Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia - Circuit Judge, Thirteenth Judicial Circuit; general jurisdiction judge in state's busiest county; served as member of Business Court and serve on Mass Litigation Panel; presiding judge of Kanawha County Juvenile Drug Court; appointed as Acting Justice of the Supreme Court of Appeals; 2014-present


Elected Offices
Circuit Judge, Thirteenth Judicial Circuit

Community Activities, Awards and Honors
Alpha Chi Omega National Sorority "Award of Achievement" 2018
Union Mission, Women on a Mission 2018
West Virginia Bar Foundation Fellow 2018
YWCA Women of Achievement 2017
WV Living Wonder Women 2017
West Virginia Executive and WVU College of Law Lawyers & Leaders, 2017 
AV rated by Martindale Hubbell 
Chambers USA, Leaders in Field - commercial litigation 
Best Lawyers in America - Appellate Practice; Employment Law - Defense; Litigation - Labor & Employment; Medical Malpractice Law - Defendants; Personal Injury Litigation - Defendants; Product Liability Litigation - Defendants 
Super Lawyers - Employment Litigation; Personal Injury Litigation 
Former Board member - YWCA 
Member - Juvenile Justice Commission 
Former Chair - Access to Justice Foundation 
Former Co-Chair - Campaign for Legal Aid




Tell voters why you believe you should be a West Virginia Supreme Court justice.
Now, more than ever, our Court needs proven qualified judges. It is critical that a Supreme Court Justice have the qualifications, integrity and sense of fairness to lead the Court into the next generation. It is critical for a Justice to have had experience as a Circuit Judge. I have that experience and the energy to lead the Court in the next generation. 

This is not just a campaign. It's a commitment. It's a commitment to the rule of law. It's a commitment to the betterment of the judiciary. But most importantly, it's a commitment to the people of the State of West Virginia.

What qualities do you believe are most important in a Supreme Court justice?  Explain how you believe you possess those qualities.
Fairness. Experience. Energy. You need only ask anyone who has been in my courtroom while I have been a judge or worked with me when I was a lawyer. I am even-tempered and fair-minded and treat all counsel and litigants the same. As for experience, I have spent my entire professional life in a courtroom, have served as a Circuit Judge in the state's busiest circuit, and have sat on the Court as a Acting Justice. I know firsthand the work of the Court and how to do it. I am hard-working, always prepared, and am committed to the work that I do.



Why should voters elect you rather than your opponents?
Importantly, I'm the only candidate in my division with Circuit Judge experience which is critical because Justices review the work of trial courts. 


Additionally, as set forth above, I'm committed to being a Justice, to serving the public and improving life for the people of West Virginia. I ran for the office in the 2018 compressed election in a very fractured field. I came in a very close second in my division to the eventual winner in my first statewide race. Our message resonated with the voters, and I've been working for ten months reconnecting with friends and meeting new ones in this campaign. We filed our precandidacy papers in May, 2019, one year before the primary election to demonstrate this commitment. 


On the other hand, my opponents are not committed, but rather see the office as an opportunity. They all filed the very last day of filing, and one even switched to this Division. That is opportunistic.




In your opinion, what has been the greatest accomplishment of your legal career?
My appointment and eventual election to the bench has been the greatest accomplishment in my career. I applied and ran for the office for twenty years before I attained my goal of becoming a judge. I feel blessed and honored to take the bench every day.


How would you prepare yourself to handle cases involving unfamiliar areas of the law?
I would prepare as I do every case. I would review the file so that I have an understanding of the procedural history and factual background of the case. I would review the parties' briefs to have an understanding of their respective positions. I would also review the applicable statutes, regulations, and case law so that I would have a better objective understanding of the area of law with which I was unfamiliar.


Do you believe that justices have a responsibility to improve public understanding of the courts?  If so, how should they carry out that obligation?
Yes. Our Court needs to be accountable to the people it serves, and court outreach programs are important in that regard, especially considering recent challenges. Additionally, our Court needs to be accessible and by that I mean that it needs to be convenient, affordable, understandable, and everyone should have access to justice under the law.


Do you believe that all West Virginians have adequate access to legal help and the legal system?  What do you believe is the greatest obstacle to justice, if anything?
Like accountability, the Court must be accessible to the people it serves. To do this, access to justice must be affordable, and too often, it is not. In my view, that is the greatest obstacle. Our Court undertook an effort years ago and held public hearings regarding Access to Justice, and needs to commit to that so that ALL people have access to a system that is convenient, affordable, and understandable.


Would you be in favor of the Supreme Court adopting standard rules requiring the recusal of judges from cases involving a major campaign contributor or supporter?  Why or why not?
In Caperton v. Massey, the Supreme Court of the United States held that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment requires a judge to recuse himself not only when actual bias has been demonstrated or when the judge has an economic interest in the outcome of the case but also when "extreme facts" create a "probability of bias." Of course, this case arose from Don Blankenship's involvement in and contributions to the campaign of former Justice Brent Benjamin. 

Given this precedent, it is clear that a Justice should recuse himself or herself under certain extreme circumstances. The difficulty in establishing a rule as described would be in defining what constitutes a "MAJOR" contributor or supporter. 

Perhaps it's more appropriate to examine the recusal process itself. I do believe that our system of recusal should be changed. There must be accountability. Now, the Justice makes the decision, and there is no review of the decision and no written record of why the recusal was handled as it was. I believe that at least a majority of the Court should review the decision and that there should be a written record so there is accountability to the public.


As a Supreme Court justice, what recommendations would you make to improve the administration and management of West Virginia’s judicial system?
As set forth above, I believe that our recusal process should be examined and changed. 


The challenges we've experienced with the COVID-19 crisis have highlighted the need for electronic filing and technology upgrades statewide so that all can have access to justice, even during a global pandemic. 


I would like to see expansion of treatment courts including adult, juvenile, and family treatment courts to combat the opioid epidemic in our state. Incarceration is not the answer, as addiction is a brain disease. These courts are essential and help people rebuild their lives and reunite with their families while being much more cost-effective than incarceration.


In your opinion, what is the best movie, television program or book ever set inside a courtroom and why?
So many great ones, but I've got to go with "The Verdict." Paul Newman was amazing in it and was Oscar-nominated. 

He was a floundering lawyer struggling with alcoholism. His friend got him a case, a medical malpractice case that was an easy settlement. But seeing the young mother who was in a vegetative state following negligence by a anesthesiologist during childbirth, he did what he thought was the right thing. He didn't settle the case. He persevered and tried it against the defendant Archdiocese and its powerful, high-priced legal team and won against all odds. And when the jury returned, they asked the question that would be music to any trial lawyer's ears, "Your Honor, are we limited to the amount the plaintiff asked for?" or something like that. I do remember Newman's character, Frank Galvin, saying to the Judge," With all due respect, Your Honor, if you're going to try my case for me, I wish you wouldn't lose it!" 

It was a moving courtroom drama, and it seemed realistic to me and gripping when I first saw in 1982 before I went to law school. Still gets me every time. Classic.

Back to 2020 WVSCA Election Divisions.

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