Introducing the Lawyers & Leaders: Class of 2017
August 18, 2017|
By Samantha Cart
In their book, “The Lawyer Myth: A Defense of the American Legal Profession,” Rennard Strickland and Frank Read wrote, “At the most pragmatic level, lawyers are society’s professional problem solvers. Lawyers are called upon to make distinctions, to explain how and why cases or experiences are alike or different. Lawyers are expected to restore equilibrium, to be balancers. Every discipline, every profession, every job and every calling has a cutting edge. At that cutting edge, lines are drawn. Lawyers and judges are society’s ultimate line drawers. On one side of the line, the conduct, action or inaction is proper; on the other side of the line, it is not.”
In an effort to celebrate elite lawyers produced by the Mountain State who are solving problems and striving for balance, the West Virginia University (WVU) College of Law and West Virginia Executive magazine teamed up to create the Lawyers & Leaders honors program. This program recognizes the accomplishments of legal professionals who have made a positive impact on the state and the nation, who have dedicated their careers to serving others and their communities and who go above and beyond to make West Virginia and the U.S. better places to live.
“The WVU College of Law is thrilled to be partnering with West Virginia Executive to honor lawyers across the state of West Virginia and the country who have demonstrated exemplary leadership,” says Dean Gregory Bowman. “The Mountain State produces some of the best lawyers in the world. The WVU College of Law has a rigorous curriculum, top-notch professors and a focus on community service. This is our opportunity to thank these members of the legal profession for their hard work, leadership and integrity.”
All nominees were required to either be a graduate of the WVU College of Law or a practicing lawyer in West Virginia. Award recipients were chosen from a variety of legal fields, including corporate law, public defense, private practice and criminal defense. The honorees are a group of hard-working, generous individuals, and their success is evident in their accomplishments and involvement.
The Lawyers & Leaders Class of 2017 is an exceptional group of professionals invested in advancing the legal profession and empowering the people, organizations and communities they serve. A ceremony honoring the class was held at the WVU College of Law on August 17, 2017, with the help of sponsors Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP; Thomas Combs & Spann, PLLC; Duffield, Lovejoy, Stemple & Boggs, Attorneys at Law; and Miller & Amos, Attorneys at Law.
We proudly introduce the Lawyers & Leaders Class of 2017.
Joyce Dumbaugh Chernenko – Judge, First Family Court Circuit of West Virginia
Marilyn T. McClure-Demers – Vice President and Associate General Counsel, Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company
Charles R. DiSalvo – Woodrow A. Potesta Professor of Law, West Virginia University College of Law
Sandra Henson Kinney – Attorney, Bailey & Glasser LLP
Todd A. Mount – Member, Shaffer & Shaffer, PLLC
Carlos E. Mendoza – United States District Judge, Middle District of Florida
Bruce Perrone – Advocacy Support Counsel, Legal Aid of West Virginia
Ben Salango – Member and Owner, Preston & Salango, PLLC
Major General Jeffrey A. Rockwell – Deputy Judge Advocate General, U.S. Air Force
Susan Snowden – Counsel, Jackson Kelly PLLC
Joanna Tabit – Judge, Circuit Court of Kanawha County
Monté Williams – Attorney, Steptoe & Johnson PLLC
Marc E. Williams – Managing Partner – West Virginia Office, Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough, LLP
Jackson J. Butler – Class of 2017, WVU College of Law
Elizabeth Stryker – Class of 2017, WVU College of Law
Joyce Dumbaugh Chernenko
Judge, First Family Court Circuit of West Virginia
By Katlin Swisher. Joyce Dumbaugh Chernenko was born and raised in Weirton, WV, at a time when the Northern Panhandle’s steel mills provided a good life for residents. Her hometown was a melting pot of backgrounds, with immigrants in search of the American dream from places as far away as the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Poland and the Ukraine.
“It was a phenomenal place to grow up,” says Chernenko, a judge for the First Family Court Circuit of West Virginia. “I will always cherish the opportunities it gave to me to understand people who are different than I am and to treat everyone equally and fairly. I think I am now a person who looks upon all persons equally because I was raised that way in my hometown.”
When it came time to choose a college, Chernenko opted to stay close to the hometown that had taught her so much. She earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from Bethany College in 1978.
“My undergraduate experience at Bethany College molded my life philosophy,” says Chernenko. “Bethany taught me that everyone’s goal, in order to achieve a fulfilled life, must include service to community and the greater world. In my senior year, that life philosophy led me to seek a career in law.”
Chernenko’s childhood experience in Weirton coupled with her service philosophy became the foundation for her worldview, which includes the fair treatment of all individuals, especially children.
After graduating from the West Virginia University (WVU) College of Law and practicing domestic relations law for 14 years, Chernenko was appointed to the bench by Governor Gaston Caperton in 1996, then elected in 2002, and has been serving in family court on behalf of the citizens of the First Judicial Circuit of West Virginia for 20 years. In this role, she presides over legal proceedings regarding children and families, including divorce, parenting, paternity, guardianship and child support, as well as civil domestic violence cases.
“I knew I could make a greater difference in the lives of children by making sound decisions that would help families get through the difficult issues they were facing and, most importantly, create stability for the children caught in the middle,” she says.
Chernenko has been on the forefront of family court judicial administration ever since.
In family court proceedings, children are often not just the victims in the cases but the unintended victims of the negativity and stress that come from being caught in the middle of circumstance. To help children overcome those experiences and protect their innocence, she has personally invested in creating children’s rooms adjacent to her courtrooms in Ohio and Hancock counties as safe spaces so children don’t have to witness their parents’ hearings.
The first children’s room was created in Ohio County. To help make the space more inviting for children, she enlisted the talents of students from her alma mater, Bethany College, to decorate the space, including a brightly colored mural depicting a sky showering down puppies and kittens.
“I see the children much more open and comfortable with the process,” she says of having the children’s rooms. “Even when I do not have to interview a child, parents will often bring the children to the court facility when they have a court hearing, even though we advise them not to. The children’s room can be used to keep the children out of the general waiting area where both of the parents are sitting and where tensions often run high.”
While the Ohio County children’s room was supported by a $2,500 grant, Chernenko and her husband, Marc, independently funded a similar project in her Hancock County family court facility.
“Ever since 2005 I had wanted to create a similar space in the Hancock County facility,” she says. “We have been given much, and we are expected to give back in return. It is just that simple.”
The children’s rooms also provide a comfortable, flexible space for Chernenko to interview children and capture their testimonies. “The fear and stress these children feel is tremendous, but the playroom setting of the children’s room makes all the difference,” she says. “I pop Daniel Striped Tiger into the DVD player, and we watch together while we chat. They become relaxed, and while what I hear from them is testimony, they think of it as playtime with Judge Joyce.”
As part of her continued work with families and children, she followed the example of a WVU College of Law classmate serving as an Eastern Panhandle family court judge to implement a family court parenting mediation program in her circuit two years before this kind of program was mandated statewide by the West Virginia Legislature. Because most of the custody cases in the pilot program were being resolved by parental agreements through the assistance of a Supreme Court-trained mediator, she saw its potential benefits for the First Circuit.
The real benefit, however, was not to the court system in general but rather to the parents and children. “After having had mediation in place for nearly 15 years, I see that 75 percent of my custody cases, even the most contentious, never go to trial because they are resolved by an agreement between the parents through mediation,” she says. “They are invested in an agreed parenting plan, and they rarely return to court with disputes after the plan is implemented by court order.”
Chernenko also adopted a parent education program in her circuit prior to the West Virginia Legislature implementing the same kind of program statewide.
“The parent education program does not teach parents how to parent. Rather, it opens parents’ eyes to all of the negative actions they take when they are going through a contested custody case—negative things that emotionally harm their children and actions that are designed to hurt the other parent through using the children,” says Chernenko. “The class shows them just how harmful these actions are to their children, with hopes of minimizing the negativity and bad acts. I have seen wonderful results with the program and heard parents cite the instructor’s teachings when they come to court, showing that they are clearly remembering his lessons.
Chernenko considers her greatest success to be the children and domestic violence victims she has helped throughout her career.
“Recently an attorney practicing in another state approached me and reminded me that I had presided over her parents’ contested custody case when she was a teenager,” she says. “She told me that the way in which I dealt with her in her parents’ case was one of the reasons she decided to become an assistant prosecutor who handles abuse and neglect cases. That is a true success.”
Chernenko also strives to set an example for the future of the state’s legal system by regularly mentoring Bethany College pre-law students during internships in her court. Since 1996, she has also advised the women of Bethany’s chapter of Zeta Tau Alpha, of which she is a member.
“I believe it is important to provide a strong female role model for college women—indeed all young women—today, particularly in the field of law,” says Cher-nenko. “We who are in the judiciary have a duty to set an example for young women of coming generations. They have a great need to witness successful women giving back to others. I know the Bethany women I work with are watching what I do and following my example. I hear it in how they speak about their future, their career goals and their life goals. Moreover, if I hear them talk about giving back, then I know I just might have made a small impact on a generation going forward.”
Marilyn T. McClure-Demers
Vice President and Associate General Counsel, Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company
By Blair Dowler. Marilyn McClure-Demers knew at a very early age she wanted to be a lawyer. When she graduated from the West Virginia University (WVU) College of Law in 1991, it was only the beginning of an energetic career solving complex disputes, promoting diversity and helping others.
“I have great passion for what I do,” she says. “My work ethic and drive have had the greatest influence on my success, as well as the ability to connect and care for people. I think most people who know me, including those closest to me, would include these amongst my strongest traits.”
A native of Bridgeport, WV, McClure-Demers launched her career in Charleston as an associate at the law firm of Smith, Heenan & Althen. With passion, strong faith and the good fortune of excellent mentors, this initial position taught her a multitude of skills and values, including the ability to dive headfirst into every assignment and make the most of it.
“I learned that all work is good work, and you never know where it will lead,” she says. “I also learned that it is critical to recognize, observe, listen and value all people at all times. You also have to be true to yourself. Don’t conform to stereotypical professional bias or pressure from others, and don’t compromise your integrity. Finally, if you are treated badly, never replicate this unfortunate treatment on others. Remember how it feels.”
From there, she flourished in her global litigation and regulatory practice, representing public and private sector clients across several industries, such as coal, manufacturing, retail, education and insurance and financial services. In 2003, she moved in-house to her first of two Fortune 100 employers, joining the Rite Aid team as the employment law counsel. In 2006, she left her position in the retail industry for Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company, where she has since earned roles of increasing responsibility.
Today, McClure-Demers serves as vice president and associate general counsel of corporate litigation for Nationwide in Columbus, Ohio. She is responsible for leading the corporate and intellectual property litigation and discovery management teams. She oversees a wide range of legal matters for the multiline insurance and financial services provider’s various business units.
“The work environment at a Fortune 100 company is different from a law firm in many ways,” says McClure-Demers. “Oftentimes the clients are senior business leaders or even the CEO, and with an organization as large as Nationwide or Rite Aid, there may be multiple stakeholders to juggle on a daily basis. This dynamic requires a global view of the business going beyond the attorney/client relationship and has different demands. However, my approach has always been to draw upon my practice roots, staying true to a litigator’s point of view.”
McClure-Demers is known far and wide for her communication, strategic thinking and negotiation skills. She loves the challenge of negotiating as much as the task of bringing opposing sides to an agreement, and she uses these skills to understand others, build credibility and negotiate terms. With these weapons in her arsenal, she has proven to be a force to be reckoned with.
“It brings me great satisfaction to solve problems and help strike deals between adversarial points of view to reach common ground,” she says. “I acquired such skills by observing some of the best, trying all sorts of approaches and adding my West Virginia charm, remembering that it mostly comes down to human nature and emotions intertwined with high stakes. How you make people feel matters most, especially in these situations.”
The law aficionado attributes her decision to practice law to the strong support system she has had throughout her life.
“I grew up in a family of strong faith and work ethic and was blessed to have parents who believed in the value of education,” she says. “They always encouraged and supported my dream to be an attorney. This was empowering, and I realize now more than ever how fortunate I was to have had those forces pushing me toward my goal.”
Her vibrant journey from private practice to in-house legal executive across West Virginia, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Ohio proves her tenacity and grace as a powerful attorney and a role model to young attorneys everywhere.
“Keeping my faith a focus, being grateful and having a growth mindset while being persistent have played a very big role on both a personal and professional level. This is so critical, as we all have to be prepared to overcome setbacks and failures to achieve success,” says McClure-Demers. “I am lucky to have a supportive husband as well as many others who have invested in my development and contributed to making me who I am today.”
McClure-Demers’s journey has involved taking risks, having an open mind and being strategic, and it rooted in her the importance of fostering an environment where all are included and diversity is celebrated. As a practitioner, she has rendered legal advice and been involved with developing and implementing diversity and affirmative action policies, programs and trainings for many different clients in many industries. She served on the Nationwide law department’s diversity and inclusion council and as Nationwide’s relationship manager for Corporate Counsel Women of Color. She also recently concluded her term as president of the Ohio Women’s Bar Association, during which a diversity and inclusion council was created that she helps lead.
In addition to these initiatives, McClure-Demers was a catalyst in launching the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity (LCLD) in West Virginia. LCLD was founded in 2009 based on a very simple ideal: the U.S. would be better served by a truly diverse legal profession, inclusive of all talent. To reach that goal, LCLD’s founders committed to use their positions of influence to innovate and expand the pool of diverse legal talent in their organizations and in society. More than 250 law firms and corporations across the country are members.
“I have been personally involved with LCLD for several years and have benefited from it, as has Nationwide,” she says. “LCLD is making a real difference in moving the needle in the legal profession, and I truly believe LCLD and all it offers will positively advance the legal profession in West Virginia too. Additionally, as a member of the WVU Law visiting committee and the first WVU Law graduate to be an LCLD fellow, I feel duty-bound to make sure we have more fellows and beneficiaries of LCLD here in the Mountain State.”
On top of her bountiful career and endeavors to celebrate diversity, she has dedicated a portion of her life to investing in the development of others by mentoring aspiring and younger attorneys.
“I am fortunate to have been the beneficiary of others’ investment in my development, so it is required to pay it back and forward in my book,” she says. “It’s critical for young lawyers to have people in which they can confide, gain perspective and overcome feelings of isolation. For me, it benefits both parties. It brings me great satisfaction to see others grow, and I learn a lot from the perspectives of new and younger professionals.”
A force and a trailblazer, McClure-Demers’ altruistic actions do not stop there. The proud Mountaineer has been involved with United Way, Girl Scouts, YWCA, Junior League, WVU Alumni Association and Kappa Kappa Gamma Alumnae Association in the various states in which she and her family have resided. Over the last 10 years, she has chaired Delaware County Ohio United Way’s community impact council and the United Way board, and she helped found and chair the United Way’s Women’s Leadership Network.
“Our United Way and Women’s Leadership Network have focused on drug addiction and hunger problems, held baby showers for young single mothers, raised money for our first in-county domestic violence shelter, promoted human trafficking awareness and funded agencies that support the escape, treatment and reintegration of human trafficking survivors,” she says. “Most recently, my husband and I were American Red Cross volunteers who, along with local fire fighters, installed fire alarms in homes in Columbus. It’s humbling and gratifying while serving as a reminder that we can all make a difference one person and one day at a time if we so choose.”
Although her career and life have landed her in Columbus, McClure-Demers is still a Mountaineer through and through. That caring Mountaineer spirit and deep connection to the hills of West Virginia shines through in every aspect of her life.
“I am a total product of West Virginia University and carry tremendous Mountaineer pride that extends from my family roots, education and every childhood memory,” she says. “The people of West Virginia are truly among the most real, kind and hardworking that you will find anywhere in the country. Like most Mountaineers, I too promote the goodness of our wonderful state. The West Virginia flag flies high in Galena, Ohio, on Saturdays throughout the late summer and fall seasons.”
Charles R. DiSalvo
Woodrow A. Potesta Professor of Law, West Virginia University College of Law
By Blair Dowler. Charles DiSalvo values the common good, which is evident in his law career—a career he has devoted to public interest and poverty law. Since 1979, the current Woodrow A. Potesta Professor of Law at the West Virginia University (WVU) College of Law continues to serve the public interest by introducing law students to this type of legal work.
“The purpose of the law is not to protect the strong from the weak or the powerful from the powerless,” he says. “The purpose of the law is to protect the weak from the strong and the powerless from the powerful. I ask my students to use the law when they are practitioners in a way that fulfills its purpose.”
DiSalvo earned his undergraduate degree in history from St. John Fisher College in Rochester, NY, in 1970. He then began a Ph.D. program in history at Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, CA, but, after obtaining a master’s degree, he realized his life’s calling was helping people through the practice of law.
“While I greatly value history and have spent a great deal of time as a law professor writing about history, my time in this particular graduate program made the LSAT look awfully interesting,” he says. “I understood the law to be a helping profession, so I took the LSAT and enrolled at the University of Southern California (USC).”
DiSalvo made the most of his time as a law student at USC. Gleaning wisdom from both his professors and peers, he participated in the school’s clinic and law review. He also honed his writing skills as the editor of This Issue, the law school’s student newspaper.
After graduating law school in 1974, he was awarded the Reginald Heber Smith Community Lawyer Fellowship. DiSalvo and his wife expressed a strong interest in Appalachia, and he was assigned to the Appalachian Research and Defense Fund (ARDF) of Kentucky. He passed the Kentucky bar examination in July 1974 and went directly to work in the private, nonprofit law firm in Barbourville, KY, which provides free civil legal aid to low-income people in counties across the Appalachian Mountains.
After four years at ARDF, DiSalvo and his wife moved to Chicago. This is where he launched his academic career adventure. For the 1978-1979 academic year, the attorney served as a Bigelow Teaching Fellow and Lecturer in Law at the University of Chicago Law School, where he learned a great deal from his mentor, Geoff Stone, a distinguished first amendment scholar.
“At the end of my time at the University of Chicago School of Law, I had decided not to teach but to return to practice,” he says. “Bob Bastress, the current John W. Fisher II Professor of Law at the WVU College of Law, invited me and my wife to Morgantown, where I met several faculty members. Their personal warmth and their enthusiasm for their work persuaded me to re-think my decision to leave academia. When I was offered a position at WVU by then-Dean Gordon Gee, I took it. I was attracted to WVU because it was welcoming, warm and concerned with the common good.”
DiSalvo has now called WVU home for 38 years. The public servant began as an assistant professor and was also hired to be the director of the WVU College of Law Clinic, which he says made the transition from practice to life as a full-time academic comfortable. In less than 10 years, he rose from an assistant professor to the Woodrow A. Potesta Professor. As his career at WVU continues to thrive, his connection to the Mountain State only grows stronger.
“Just as the atmosphere at the law school is more collegial than that at many other law schools, so, too, with the bar,” he says. “While the practice atmosphere here is not perfect, of course, the size and quality of the West Virginia bar is such that the practice of law in this state takes place in an atmosphere that is palpably more collegial than that in most other jurisdictions. I’m grateful that my bar license says West Virginia on it.”
As a Mountaineer, the law professor teaches one of the few law school courses in the U.S. on civil disobedience and the law. He also teaches courses on civil procedure, bioethics and trial advocacy.
DiSalvo says the Potesta endowed professorship has afforded him the ability to conduct research on Mahatma Gandhi, a pillar of the civil disobedience movement. The professor’s astute writing skills, deep interest in history and passion for helping others were some of the key components to the perfect formula for authoring a book about Gandhi, the widely recognized leader of Indian nationalism in British-ruled India who employed nonviolent civil disobedience, inspiring movements for civil rights across the world. With the help of many research assistants from the law school and history department at WVU, DiSalvo published the first biography of Gandhi’s life as a lawyer, a milestone DiSalvo considers to be his greatest accomplishment.
DiSalvo’s “M.K. Gandhi, Attorney at Law: The Man Before the Mahatma” is not your typical historical depiction of Gandhi’s legacy as a civil rights leader. Published in 2013, in this biography, DiSalvo digs deeper into Gandhi’s experience in the law as a significant factor in the development of his philosophy and practice of nonviolence. DiSalvo goes on to paint the picture with riveting details of Gandhi discovering “within the law the grand dynamic that converts disobedience to change—change even in the law itself.”
Complementing his robust teaching career and Mohandas Gandhi expertise, DiSalvo is also committed to volunteer work with organizations and causes centered around working for the public interest, including the West Virginia State Bar Association’s Legal Services for the Poor Committee, Rural Scholarship Committee, State Bar Public Interest Scholarship Committee, Mountain State Justice Board of Directors, St. Francis De Sales Church Refugee Committee and WVU College of Law’s Sustainability Committee.
In the mid-1980s, DiSalvo was instrumental in the formation of the West Virginia Fund for Law in the Public Interest, Inc. A law student at the time and today an attorney in Hurricane, WV, Carl Hostler asked DiSalvo to be the faculty adviser for the Public Interest Advocates student organization. Not long after, DiSalvo and Hostler co-founded the fund.
“The purpose of the fund is to raise funds to support law students working in the public interest,” says DiSalvo. “Over the years, the private bar has been incredibly supportive of the fund. Through its generosity, the private bar has helped create innumerable summer and post-grad fellowships. Many of our brother and sister West Virginians have received essential help as a result of legal work performed by our fellows.”
DiSalvo advised the Public Interest Advocates and the fund for 23 years. The fund, the single largest employer of WVU law students, has placed 440 students in public interest summer jobs. Today, he remains a member of the fund board.
His vast knowledge and extensive service to the WVU College of Law and the legal profession has helped DiSalvo earn numerous college, university, state and national awards. DiSalvo has been named the WVU College of Law Professor of the Year six times, and he has earned the WVU Foundation Outstanding Teacher Award. While he is very grateful for these accolades, there is something that means much more to him.
“While I have very much appreciated the sentiments behind the honors, there are things in life more important than awards,” he says. “What has the deepest significance to me is the opportunity to work with my students at the College of Law. I would like every student who comes to the College of Law with a desire to engage in public interest work in West Virginia to graduate with such a job in hand.”
The professor of law considers the opportunity to serve on the law school’s faculty to be one of the most meaningful jobs a person can have, though he does miss the opportunity to do public interest litigation. “I miss coming into daily contact with people who need the most basic help to get through life,” he says.
At the end of the day, DiSalvo’s faith, family and friends keep him motivated in his demanding career.
“Work should be fulfilling. To make it fulfilling, each of us tries to unite our work, on the one hand, with our morality, politics and spirituality on the other. Each of us tries to be integrated,” he says. “The law is special in that it offers each of us, whether we are practitioners or professors, a heightened opportunity to unite what we do with what we believe. While I don’t always succeed at it, I’m grateful for that opportunity.”
Sandra Henson Kinney
Attorney, Bailey & Glasser LLP
By Samantha Cart. Even though Sandra Kinney, an attorney at Bailey & Glasser LLP, has been practicing law for more than 20 years, she will never forget her first day at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law.
“The first day of law school, the first class, and I was the person called on,” she remembers. “It was terrifying. I didn’t know what to do. Was I supposed to stand up when I answered the question? I couldn’t stand up because I felt like I’d been struck by lightning. But I survived.”
And it’s a good thing she did, because Kinney has been a vital asset to the Mountain State, particularly through her work with Legal Aid of West Virginia (LAWV).
“I went to law school because I wanted to help people, and that has guided my career choices over the years,” she says. “After an internship with the United Automobile Workers in Detroit, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in union-side labor law, and that’s what brought me to West Virginia.”
Kinney’s work with LAWV, the state’s primary provider of civil legal aid and advocacy services, is well known, and in this role she demonstrated the hallmark of a true leader, working behind the scenes to ensure the well-being of others.
“Representing victims of domestic violence in family court was the most fulfilling part of my job at LAWV,” she says. “I had to learn perspective and remember that my clients’ experiences were not my experiences. My clients shared their most raw and personal stories with me and trusted me to fight for them. It was my job to be strong for them, and they deserved it. I really can’t imagine any more powerful work.”
During her time at LAWV, Kinney arranged ask-a-lawyer sessions for domestic violence victims, represented homeless veterans, provided outreach to veterans and organizations that serve veterans and planned and implemented LAWV’s expansion of veterans’ services throughout the state.
Today, as an attorney at Bailey & Glasser, Kinney is working on wage and hour cases and consumer class actions brought to protect the rights of West Virginians. “Because a class action can remedy systemic wrongs afflicting thousands of people, these cases have the potential not only to help those victimized by illegal conduct but bring marketplace abuses to light and change or even completely eliminate them,” she says.
Kinney is admittedly motivated by a strong desire to win, serve her clients and learn new things.
“To me, success is more than just winning cases,” she says. “It’s about the quality of your work in and out of the courtroom. I treat all my clients with the same level of respect, whether an indigent person, corporate officer or agency head. Because I am patient and willing to listen, I am able to make genuine connections and build good relationships.”
That ability to form meaningful relationships led Kinney to create West Virginia Women Attorneys (WVWA), a network of female lawyers who share business development ideas and establish mentoring relationships, in 2016. The group is now a member organization of the National Conference of Women’s Bar Associations. In under a year, WVWA has grown to include over 600 members and, under Kinney’s leadership, is in the development stages of becoming a 501(c)(6) business league.
“My goal with the WVWA is to address the variety of issues that women from diverse backgrounds find important and make West Virginia a better place to practice law for all women,” she says.
Kinney has also been a highly effective advocate in a variety of other roles. In addition to serving as a legal aid attorney, she has worked as an assistant state attorney general for civil rights, an assistant U.S. attorney in the civil division and in private practice, and she currently chairs the West Virginia State Bar Association’s newly formed Women in the Law committee. She is also heavily involved with the Blessed Sacrament Church in South Charleston, where she has served as a Eucharistic minister, Sunday school teacher, camp counselor, chair of the St. Maria Goretti Guild and a member of the marriage preparation team and parish pastoral council.
Of all her many roles, Kinney stresses that her family is her greatest success, and her career is the cherry on top. “I’ve been able to shape my work around family life and as a complement to it,” she says. “My goal has always been to do good work and challenge myself intellectually, and I feel like I’m accomplishing that.”
Todd A. Mount
Member, Shaffer & Shaffer, PLLC
By Maggie Matsko. For Todd Mount, a member at Shaffer & Shaffer, PLLC, it is the state of West Virginia that has shaped him into the person he is today, but he didn’t always have a clear admiration for the Mountain State.
“As a young person, I don’t know that I had a real appreciation for West Virginia,” he says. “I hadn’t been away from home much and took everything for granted. In high school, though, I was fortunate to participate in the West Virginia Scholar Program, and that is where I met a lot of smart, fun people from around the state and really began to have a real appreciation for my home. Once I went to West Virginia University (WVU), that appreciation turned into undying love.”
When Mount made the decision to attend WVU, everything fell into place, and his journey toward a career in the field of law began. “My junior year, I became one of WVU’s nominees for a Harry S. Truman Foundation scholarship,” he says. “This led to some one-on-one mentoring with Professor Robert DiClerico, a nationally renowned political science teacher and historian, who introduced me to John Fisher, the dean of the law school at the time. Thanks to both of them, I went on to become a Truman Scholar finalist. That experience, more than anything, led me to look at law school as a real option for my future.”
In 1995, Mount graduated from the WVU College of Law and was admitted to practice in the Mountain State. He landed his first job as an associate for a firm in Charleston doing labor and employment law. In 1997, he left to be an assistant prosecutor in Boone County, a choice that paid less but was well worth the sacrifice.
“It was a different kind of experience entirely,” he says. “It gave me all the in-court, on-your-feet practical experience I could have hoped for, and I came to a much better understanding of people in general and the community in which I lived and worked. At the end of the day, there is simply no substitute for the confidence that comes from that amount of time in the courtroom.”
In 1998, Mount joined Shaffer & Shaffer, where he focuses on litigation, insurance defense, coverage disputes and small business consulting at the firm’s Madison and Charleston offices.
“It wasn’t until I came to Shaffer & Shaffer that I had career mentors who taught me how to be a true professional, look for creative settlement opportunities, be a gentleman and give back to the community that has given so much to me,” he says.
Mount was immediately included in a long-standing firm tradition: supporting the Boone County chapter of the WVU Alumni Association. He was invited to his first Boone County alumni pig roast on the day he was hired. A year later, he joined the chapter’s board, and he has served as board president for the last two years.
The alumni chapter’s mission is to raise money to use for scholarships for Boone County students who attend WVU. Since it was established in 1987, the chapter has awarded close to $700,000 in scholarships to more than 100 students. It also has the largest endowment of any chapter.
“The main reason for our success is that we have made our chapter an important part of our community and social lives since there are close bonds of friendship and family throughout the group,” says Mount. “We are now trying to grow our membership generationally, as a lot of the students who received scholarships or whose parents were active in the chapter are now successful adults. It’s up to them to keep this thing moving forward.”
Mount finds motivation not only in providing the best representation possible to his clients but also in his involvement in community and professional organizations. He is a former member of the West Virginia State Bar Board of Governors and currently serves on the board of the Defense Trial Counsel of West Virginia and as vice chair of the board of trustees of The Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation, the largest community foundation in the state.
“I have picked the causes to which I give mainly by looking for opportunities to help people and improve the communities where I live and work,” he says. “I recently heard someone say, ‘The only people you should ever try to get even with are the ones that have helped you.’ I guess I’m just trying to get even.”
Carlos E. Mendoza
United States District Judge, Middle District of Florida
By Kevin Duvall. “If you can dream—and not make dreams your master; if you can think—and not make thoughts your aim; if you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two impostors just the same . . . .”
Carlos Mendoza, U.S. district judge for the Middle District of Florida, calls these words by Rudyard Kipling his recipe for life. From his time as a combat-decorated Marine to his appointment as a federal district judge, Mendoza has embodied Kipling’s sense of stoicism and control of his destiny.
Mendoza was nominated to his position as a district judge by President Barack Obama in February 2014 after being endorsed by Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Bill Nelson (D-FL). In June 2014, he was confirmed by the Senate in a vote of 94-0.
Mendoza’s work as a judge is the latest in a long history of public service. He enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1989 after graduating from high school and served for two years in operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield. Mendoza’s time in combat had a profound effect on his life.
“I came to terms with my own mortality at the age of 19,” says Mendoza. “Very little rattles me, and since my return from combat in 1991, I feel as if I have been playing the game of life with house money. Every day is a gift, and life is precious. I think it makes me a better judge and a better person.”
After returning to the U.S. in 1991, Mendoza stayed with the Marine Corps Reserve as a corporal while attending the College of Central Florida where he earned an associate’s degree. Mendoza attended West Virginia University (WVU) for his final two years of college, earning his bachelor’s degree in political science in 1993. He remained a member of the Marine Corps Reserve until 1995.
Mendoza received his Juris Doctor from the WVU College of Law in 1997. During law school, he was a member of the National Trial Advocacy Team and the Men’s Law Caucus. Upon graduating, he was inducted into the Order of the Barristers. Mendoza felt tremendous passion for the law and for his fellow lawyers.
“The most important experience I gained from law school was the confidence that came from feeling that I belonged and that there was something positive I could contribute to the time-honored profession of the practice of law,” he says. “Also, the friendships you develop in law school are priceless. I remain in contact with many of my classmates, and we never grow tired of talking about all of the great times we had while working toward graduation.”
Mendoza also feels a special connection to West Virginia because his time in Morgantown marked a major turning point in his career.
“I consider it the privilege of a lifetime that the WVU College of Law saw fit to admit me as a member of the class of 1997. I will always be thankful for that,” he says. “West Virginia is where I got my chance. My wife grew up there, and I consider it one of the most important building blocks in my professional life.”
After law school, Mendoza utilized his military and legal experience to become a judge advocate in the Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps of the U.S. Navy. Mendoza was commissioned as a second lieutenant and served in the JAG Corps until 2005. He recalls his naval experience as playing an important role in his development as a person.
“While the Marine Corps taught me to fear absolutely nothing, the Navy taught me to be both an officer and a gentleman. Both experiences have proven to be quite valuable,” he says. “The JAG Corps was an opportunity to learn how to be part of a legal team and apply those teambuilding skills to provide a very pure form of legal representation for families sacrificing everything to serve our nation.”
Over the course of his 14-year military career, Mendoza received many awards, including the Department of Justice Seal in recognition of exemplary service, four Navy/Marine Corps Commendation Medals, a Letter of Commendation, Junior Officer of the Quarter and a Navy/Marine Corps Achievement Medal. Mendoza considers his military honors to be the most important awards he has received.
During the end of his service in the JAG Corps, from 2004-2005, Mendoza also served as a special assistant U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia. Afterward, he became an assistant state attorney in the Seventh Judicial Circuit of Florida. At the end of his three-year tenure, he was the division chief for St. Johns County. Mendoza served as assistant city attorney for St. Augustine, FL, from 2008-2011, when he was appointed as a circuit court judge in the Seventh Judicial Circuit by Governor Rick Scott. He stayed in this position until his confirmation as a district judge.
“The varied and challenging experiences I had throughout my legal career prepared me for the unpredictable nature of serving as a federal judge,” says Mendoza.
Having been endorsed for his federal appointment by both Florida senators—a Democrat and a Republican—Mendoza is well regarded across the aisle. He stresses the importance of being impartial as a judge and listening to diverse views as a thinker.
“I think it is important to understand perspectives you may not agree with,” he says. “Surrounding yourself with people who view the world exactly as you do invites intellectual lethargy. When I listen to alternative perspectives, I sometimes question my own views, and on occasion, I change my mind.”
Beyond his experiences in the military and the law, Mendoza attributes his personal and professional growth to the influence of his family. Mendoza is a first-generation American, and his parents are naturalized U.S. citizens. He and his two siblings, an older brother and a younger sister, were the first members of their family to graduate from college.
“We are the product of driven, hard-working parents,” he says. “My parents made us believe the unbelievable, that with hard work and patience, nothing was beyond our reach. I am very proud of my siblings, and I owe my success in large part to my parents.”
The guidance Mendoza received from his parents led him to give the same guidance to others.
“Not everyone has the benefit of wonderful parents, so those of us that benefited from that type of valuable guidance have an obligation to pass that information along to those who may lack the type of guidance that can make all the difference in the world,” he says. “I feel that I have a responsibility to tell those lacking the parenting I so benefited from that there is really no limit to what they can accomplish. I think young people need to hear that they control their own destiny. Even now, I do not pass on any opportunity to speak to young people.”
Mendoza’s drive to shape his destiny has led him to a highly successful career, but he considers his family his greatest success. He approaches his role as a father with the same resolve he has displayed as a serviceman, lawyer and judge.
“I want my children to be productive, well-adjusted adults,” he says. “It is the final act of my life and a work still in progress.”
In the penultimate line of his poem, Kipling writes, “Yours is the world and everything that’s in it.” When looking at Mendoza’s career, one can see why he is inspired by it. If there is one recurring theme to his life’s work, it is that there is no limit on what one person can achieve. Mendoza follows this ideal in service to his country, his family and anyone else for whom he can be a leader.
Advocacy Support Counsel, Legal Aid of West Virginia
By Jean Hardiman. As a student at the Washington & Lee University School of Law, Bruce Perrone interviewed with corporate law firms in big cities, which was typical for students with good grades, but he didn’t have much to say to those folks. He found that his fire for the law kindled when he was helping the less fortunate.
Perrone earned an economics degree at Davidson College in North Carolina in 1975, when the concept of operating legal clinics to meet the needs of working people was still developing. During law school, he volunteered with a student-run legal aid program that was supervised by a local lawyer. He was also elected as an officer in the student bar, which afforded membership in the university’s honor system, and he participated in the law review and the university’s Women’s Law Students Organization.
After graduation, Perrone began his career in 1978 as a staff attorney at Legal Aid of North Carolina.
“It was absolutely everything I hoped legal aid could be,” he says. “I loved the clients, I loved the work, and I loved the advocates I was working with. We were all pretty new as lawyers and figuring it out as we went, but we made sure to have fun while we were doing it. In those days, we took just about any civil case that came in the door, and I learned to jump in and figure it out quick.”
It was the Reginald Heber Smith Community Lawyer Fellowship that brought Perrone to the Mountain State to work as a staff attorney for the North Central West Virginia Legal Aid Society in Morgantown. In 1981, he moved into the director’s position, but he stayed there only four years before taking a job as the litigation director at the Legal Aid Society of Charleston so he could get back to lawyering. Federal cutbacks led to the consolidation of West Virginia’s three surviving legal aid programs, and by 2002, Legal Aid of West Virginia (LAWV) had been established.
Today, Perrone serves as advocacy support counsel for LAWV, handling cases, coordinating support systems for litigation and advocacy across the state and posting resources to a website for fellow advocates. His responsibilities include co-counseling, assisting advocates through calls and emails, reviewing and editing written work and coordinating mock arguments for Legal Aid lawyers preparing for Supreme Court arguments.
Perrone has had administrative positions as well, and he has served on numerous committees and task forces related to everything from the implementation of the American Disabilities Act to landlord/tenant law to self-represented litigants. He also volunteered through the American Bar Association in 1999 to spend six weeks in Albania, consulting during the establishment of the country’s first legal aid program after the fall of its communist dictatorship in 1993.
“It was an absolutely fascinating experience on its own merits,” he says. “It also deeply enriched my own understanding of the role of legal aid, and the legal system generally, in strengthening the institutions of a vibrant democracy and respect for the rights of individuals.”
Ask him what he thinks his greatest success is, and he’ll say it’s hard to choose. He’s proud to have handled public benefit federal court class action cases, of working with legal aid programs in West Virginia and three other states to provide training opportunities for advocates and of his work in Albania, among other exciting endeavors. But it’s also rewarding to help an unemployed father feed his family or help a domestic violence victim get control of her life and show her daughter what empowerment looks like.
“When I see a picture of a disabled child with an ear-to-ear grin because he got a wheelchair that gives him a measure of independence for the first time in his life, and that was because of Legal Aid, that makes me smile,” says Perrone. “How can you not enjoy that?”
The choice of a career of service was a simple one for Perrone. “Simply put, it gives me more satisfaction than anything else I can think of,” he says. “I enjoy what I do, and I don’t think I would enjoy many other forms of law. There’s just something inside me that makes me tick this way.”
Member and Owner, Preston & Salango, PLLC
By Kevin Duvall. Ben Salango, owner and member of Preston & Salango, PLLC, has amassed a large collection of legal and civic awards in a short time. Since 2012, he has been named one of The State Journal’s 40 Under 40, the Kanawha County Democratic Executive Committee’s Democrat of the Year and a top 10 personal injury lawyer in West Virginia by the Academy of Personal Injury Attorneys. His firm has been included in U.S. News and World Report’s Best Law Firms every year from 2012-2017. Despite his past successes, however, Salango’s focus is always on the future.
It is his drive to move forward that motivates his work as a lawyer and community leader. After graduating from the West Virginia University (WVU) College of Law in 1998, Salango became an associate at File Payne Scherer & File PLLC in his hometown of Beckley. In August 1999, Salango moved to Charleston to work in the Medical Malpractice Defense Group of Flaherty Sensabaugh Bonasso PLLC. Salango credits the level of responsibility he was given there with the advancement of his career.
“I was not treated like a junior lawyer,” he says of moving to the firm. “They trusted me with the work up of cases, including trials and appellate arguments before the West Virginia Supreme Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals. Working for such a prestigious civil defense firm launched me into the next phase of my career.”
In January 2005, less than seven years after graduating from law school, Salango made partner at Flaherty Sensabaugh Bonasso. Although he found his job rewarding, he wanted to take the next step in his career and start his own firm.
“I was very happy working there,” he says. “I loved my job, and I truly enjoyed the people I worked with every day. So when I announced I was leaving the firm only a year after being named partner, people thought I had lost my mind. Honestly, there were days I agreed with them. But I knew I could make my own law firm a success even in a very competitive market. I’m proud of the risk I took, and I am glad it worked out.”
A large determining factor in Salango’s decision to set out on his own in 2006 was his interest in litigation. In his practice, he concentrates on personal injury and employment cases as well as other civil suits. Salango was immediately drawn to litigation during law school because it would allow him to represent victims, help people and enjoy the fast pace of trial work.
“I knew in law school that I wanted to be a litigator because the subjects that interested me were trial advocacy, civil procedure and evidence,” he says. “When I started looking for a job during law school, I only applied to law firms who were hiring an associate for litigation.”
Beyond his legal career, Salango is heavily invested in public service in West Virginia. In early 2017, he was appointed to the Kanawha County Commission and is one of the youngest county commissioners in recent history. Salango is committed to bringing new economic opportunities to Kanawha County. He has a particular interest in sports tourism, and one of his primary projects is developing a multisport facility to provide local children with opportunities to participate in sports.
Many of Salango’s other community service projects center on children. His firm has sponsored or organized events to benefit the Charleston Montessori School, the Kanawha-Charleston Soccer Foundation and Sensitive Santa Portraits, which enables children with autism to have their pictures taken with Santa Claus without long lines, loud music or distracting lights.
Salango’s work can be summarized in one statement: “Giving back is one of the most important things a lawyer can do.”
Being able to give back through his law practice and participate in community service and family life with his wife, Tera, and their two sons makes all aspects of his life rewarding.
“I have never measured success in terms of dollars and cents or awards,” says Salango. “Success is not materialistic. Having a wonderful wife and two great kids and being able to help people as a lawyer and county commissioner make me feel successful.”
Major General Jeffrey A. Rockwell
Deputy Judge Advocate General, U.S. Air Force
By Samantha Cart. “Integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do.”
These are the core values of the U.S. Air Force and the tenants by which Major General Jeffrey Rockwell lives his life.
A member of the Air Force Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps, Rockwell currently serves as the deputy judge advocate general, a position to which he was appointed by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the Senate in 2014. In this prestigious role, he assists the judge advocate general in the professional oversight of more than 2,200 judge advocates, 350 civilian attorneys, 1,400 enlisted paralegals and 500 civilians worldwide. His responsibilities encompass a variety of issues, including military justice, international and civil law and the provision of legal advice to the secretary and chief of staff of the Air Force.
“Being a military lawyer means you’ve raised your right hand to serve two professions—the profession of arms and the profession of law,” says Rockwell. “To serve the profession of arms, you need to live by the core values of integrity first, service before self and excellence in all you do. To serve the profession of law in the Air Force, you need to do so with wisdom, valor and justice. It sounds simple in the esoteric, but of course it can be difficult in execution given the size and scope of our national security missions. Fortunately, I’ve been given many opportunities to hone these core values and principles as an airman and JAG practicing in both professions for three decades with some of the best lawyers, leaders and airmen on the planet.”
With more than 660,000 total force airmen conducting operations across the globe, including active duty, Guard and reserves, Rockwell oversees legal issues encompassing every area of the law, from criminal justice and discipline to civil and international law.
“The scope of practice in a worldwide organization is the hard part,” he says. “The easy part comes with the quality of lawyers and paralegals we have to work cases and issues. Challenges are easily overcome when you get to work with the kind of airmen and families we have in our Air Force.”
As deputy JAG, Rockwell helps enhance the mission readiness and morale of soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines and their families by providing legal and tax assistance programs and ensuring all personal matters have been addressed. This often includes counseling families on common issues that arise during long deployment separations. In 2016 alone, JAGs saved military families nearly $29 million in legal fees by providing these services.
“When Iraq invaded Kuwait and operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm kicked off, my wife and I were newly married and assigned to an air base in northeastern Spain,” says Rockwell. “As troops poured through our base on their way to the Middle East, I was astounded by the number who didn’t have their legal affairs in order. We processed thousands of wills and powers of attorney, and it dawned on me then how deadly distractions like those involving personal legal affairs can be when you are going into harm’s way.”
Rockwell also works to implement career development plans for when service men and women return to civilian life; design and support important Air Force initiatives; protect government resources, procurements, investments and intellectual property rights; review military contracts; craft instructional documents for military training; and represent service members at formal hearings and appeals.
“Other areas of individual representation the JAG Corps provides our airmen include defense counsel and victim counsel services,” he says. “Like in other criminal justice systems, airmen accused of a crime or facing other adverse actions are entitled to zealous representation to protect their due process rights. Similarly, in a relatively new program to the military, victims of sexual assault are entitled to representation to ensure their voices are heard and rights are protected throughout the justice process.”
As part of his lifelong commitment to service of country, Rockwell has had several overseas assignments and significant leadership roles as chief counsel for major military installations around the world. He has lived on three different continents and relocated his family 15 times over the past 30 years, and he remains passionate about serving alongside his fellow service members.
“In terms of time, half of my career has been spent overseas, and in terms of location, I’ve probably been to more countries than I haven’t been to,” he says. “Service and country connotes team and being part of something that represents something bigger than oneself. As part of that team, every member has an important role in bridging disciplines, expertise, diversity of views and history. With regard to the last, as one of the elders in a force made up of much younger generations, I do have more of a historical perspective from serving during the Cold War, two Gulf Wars and in operations involving the Balkans, East Timor and Libya. Bridging this span of time, capturing lessons learned and evolving to the future is important. As for the practice of law itself, while time has given me experience to share and teach the law, the young airmen and JAGs have a lot to share and teach us elders about facts, particularly in an age of information and technology. There is also a bridging that occurs with practicing the art of law in a predominantly STEM organization like the Air Force. It’s fascinating to reconcile the differences in disciplines, approach and analytical thinking.”
Over the course of his career, Rockwell has authored various national security laws and articles, advancing Department of Defense (DoD) and U.S. government interests in military justice, government liability for civilian use of global positioning systems, customary international law, European Union law, rule of law development in Romania, the solidarity movement in Poland, interagency legal capability for rule of law development and state building and the politics of strategic aircraft modernization. He also wrote several chapters in the DoD Law of War Manual, Army Operational Law Handbook and Air Force Operations and the Law Handbook.
Before becoming deputy JAG, he served as the senior legal advisor to the Air Force Special Operations Command, U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Force Space Command—three of the 10 major Air Force command organizations. He has also served as the commander of the Air Force Legal Operations Agency, which provides full-spectrum legal support to commands worldwide, including criminal justice and civil law litigation expertise, and legal education to the force through the judge advocate general’s school.
Rockwell has been highly decorated during his service, receiving awards and honors such as the Legion of Merit, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Department of State Medal, Air Force Meritorious Service Medal with four oak clusters and Air Force Commendation Medal with one oak leaf cluster. While he has clearly carved out a successful career, he maintains that the success has little to do with him personally.
“Before I joined the greatest Air Force in the world 30 years ago, I attended the greatest university in the world for seven years. Before that, I was raised by the greatest parents, grandparents and family in the world. Along the way, I married the greatest woman in the world, and we had the two greatest children in the world,” he says. “I’m a big fan of Malcolm Gladwell’s thesis in his book, ‘Outliers,’ positing that environment, opportunity and mentoring lead to individual success. Any success I’ve experienced has little to do with me individually. It’s the environment I’m blessed to be part of, provided by my family, my education and the organization and service I belong to.”
While he has traveled the world and currently resides in Washington, D.C., Rockwell is still loyal to his alma mater, West Virginia University (WVU), where he received a bachelor’s degree in accounting and his Juris Doctor from the WVU College of Law. He also earned master’s degrees in air and space law from McGill University in Montreal and national security studies from the National Defense University (NDU) in Washington, D.C.
“McGill and NDU are fantastic institutions, but I would have attended WVU for all of my formal education if I could have,” he says. “I’m a Mountaineer through and through. My wife and I are from southwest Pennsylvania, about 25 miles from Morgantown. We’re both Mountaineers, and we’ll always be Mountaineers.”
Counsel, Jackson Kelly PLLC
By Jean Hardiman. One of the finest things about West Virginians, in the eyes of Berkeley County attorney Susan Snowden, is that they come to each other’s aid without fail.
That is what she tries to do as counsel in the Martinsburg office of Jackson Kelly PLLC and as a resident in her lifelong Eastern Panhandle community. Having focused her career on the insurance defense and corporate areas of law, she’s taken very seriously her role of using her knowledge and experience to serve clients in their times of need, all the while spending her off hours volunteering with her church and 4-H and serving on boards that focus on everything from health care to business development to agriculture.
The field of law was something Snowden decided to pursue during high school, after she participated in a youth-in-government project at the West Virginia State Capitol. She earned a degree at Shepherd University in 1982 before graduating from the Ohio Northern University Claude W. Pettit College of Law in 1985. It was the one time as an adult that she’s lived away from her home state.
“That was an excellent decision for me, as I had law classmates from all over the U.S., exposing me to a variety of ideas and socialization,” she says. “However, I always knew I wanted to come back to the Mountain State and practice law in my hometown.”
Snowden feels fortunate to have begun her career at Martin & Seibert, where she practiced until 2017, when she made the move to Jackson Kelly to offer a further depth of practice to benefit her clients. Her career has given her exposure to complex matters, including employment class actions, catastrophic fire/explosion resulting in multiple deaths and injuries, class action suits over insurance industry practices and policy language and insurance coverage litigation in a time when that area of the law was evolving in West Virginia. The experience has enabled her to advise clients on both substantive and procedural areas of state and federal court practice.
“I am motivated to study the law and continue to have an impact on many areas of the practice,” she says. “Nothing is more exciting than briefing and arguing an issue before a circuit court and then perhaps at the Supreme Court of Appeals or Fourth Circuit, knowing you are arguing a matter of first impression. After 32 years of practice, I still find it exciting when I cite a case in a brief for the court that I was involved in. This is a career where you have the potential to leave an indelible mark upon the body of law for your state. Very few professions have that type of lasting legacy. This is both a joy and a burden that I take very seriously.”
Snowden has been recognized in various peer publications, including The Best Lawyers in America and Super Lawyers for more than 10 years, and listed among Women in the Law. Recently, she was appointed by the Supreme Court of Appeals as a member of the Board of Law Examiners. The award that has touched her the most, however, was being selected by the Girl Scouts of the Nation’s Capital as a Woman of Achievement, knowing that award is reserved for excellent role models for young women.
As for her own children, Snowden and her husband often involved them in volunteer projects in their community. She herself has volunteered on the board of the Mountain State Apple Harvest Festival for more than 30 years, ensuring that the area’s rich agricultural heritage is celebrated. She’s also a West Virginia 4-H All Star, having helped young people develop leadership skills for years. Snowden serves on WVU Medicine University Healthcare’s board of directors and has chaired its foundation board. She has also served on the board of the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Chamber of Commerce, the state chamber and United Way. At Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, she volunteers as an organist for Sunday services and as council president.
“As a person of faith, I truly believe that to those whom much is given, much is expected in return,” she says. “I have had a blessed life so far, and I feel like I have an obligation to give back and use my talents to help others and continue to make our state a great place to live.”
Judge, Circuit Court of Kanawha County
By Katlin Swisher. As a former board member and 2017 YWCA Women of Achievement honoree, the YWCA’s mission, “Empowering women, eliminating racism and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all,” defines Joanna Tabit’s approach to not only the legal profession but also to life.
As a Kanawha County Circuit Court judge in Charleston, WV, she strives to carry out that mission as a mentor to young lawyers, which she believes is one of the most critical components to their success. She has also mentored aspiring lawyers during her career as a public and private practitioner and as an adjunct lecturer at her alma mater, West Virginia University (WVU) College of Law.
Tabit knows firsthand the importance of mentorship. While she credits former Supreme Court Justice Thomas McHugh, current Justice Margaret Workman and U.S. District Judge Irene Berger as mentors who have provided invaluable guidance to her throughout her career, there was no greater influence in her life than her parents. “All that my sisters and I are is because of them and the women they raised us to be,” she says.
Tabit’s volunteer work is not limited to mentoring. She has been a member of various professional legal groups, including the West Virginia State Bar Board of Governors and the Young Lawyers Section of the State Bar, board member of the Kanawha County Public Defender’s Office, co-chair for the Campaign for Legal Aid, chairperson of the Access to Justice Foundation and District 8 Character Committee of the West Virginia Board of Law Examiners and officer of the Kanawha County Bar Association. She has also served on the board of directors for several nonprofit organizations, including the YWCA, Kanawha Pastoral Counseling Center and Daymark, Inc.
As an attorney, she was a member of the pro bono referral project of the West Virginia State Bar and served as a pro bono attorney for the Civil Legal Assistance Partnership, which provided representation at hearings for victims of domestic violence. Although she had to resign some of these positions upon becoming a judge, serving the greater Kanawha Valley is still a priority for Tabit.
“Everyone has abilities, talents or experiences that someone else can benefit from,” she says. “I get involved in the causes I believe in because it’s easy to be inspired when you really care about something.”
Working as a private practice attorney for 22 years prior to becoming a judge, Tabit did not specialize in a particular area of the law. That varied legal experience, especially as a trial lawyer, eased her transition to the bench.
“I considered myself a trial lawyer first and, when necessary, an appellate lawyer. I’ve tried personal injury, product liability, medical malpractice, governmental liability and employment cases. I liked doing a little bit of everything because I was always learning,” she says. “This helps me as a judge because I know and understand the law yet also have an appreciation and understanding of the pressures of the practice, and that’s important.”
As a Kanawha County Circuit Court judge for the last two and a half years, Tabit’s docket includes criminal and civil cases; magistrate court, family court, municipal court and administrative appeals; juvenile matters; and child abuse and neglect cases.
“Child abuse and neglect cases comprise at least 50 percent of our court’s docket and are, in my opinion, the most challenging and important work we do,” says Tabit. “The termination of parental rights is the most serious sanction for a parent. It’s a death penalty for a parent inasmuch as you are permanently removing the child from his or her parent’s life. While in private practice, I had some limited experience with abuse and neglect as a young lawyer, but I didn’t appreciate how deeply invested you become in these cases as a judge.”
Every day, Tabit experiences how deeply drugs and abuse affect nearly every facet of her work and her community. The opportunity to help individuals overcome their circumstances and get their lives back on track provides motivation for her to persevere.
“Sadly, I learned quickly that drugs permeate virtually everything we do. Drugs tragically touch everything—not just the adult felony cases,” she says. “I want to do the best job I can for the people of Kanawha County. I strive to contribute positively to the administration of justice in our state and to be a vital part of our community.”
Attorney, Steptoe & Johnson PLLC
By Jean Hardiman. Monté Williams felt drawn to the law early in his undergraduate experience at West Virginia University (WVU), where he focused on political science. Law school was definitely on his bucket list, but not necessarily with the goal of becoming a practicing attorney. Instead, he planned to put his knowledge of the law into his career as a West Virginia state trooper.
It was after several years of working as a trooper, though, that his path began to change, and he decided to transition from law enforcement to law practice. Today, as a member at Steptoe & Johnson PLLC in Morgantown, WV, he brings a wealth of work and life experience to leading the firm’s General Litigation Practice Group and Oil and Gas Emergency Response Team. He is also a member of the firm’s committees for diversity, recruiting and litigation training, and he serves as a mentor for the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity (LCLD) and students at the WVU College of Law, where he received his law degree in 2003.
As a nontraditional student, the first month of law school proved to be an intimidating endeavor for the state trooper. “I was surrounded by primarily younger classmates who were extremely bright, full of confidence, seemingly more conditioned for the rigors of academia, motivated and sure about how their legal journey would end,” he says. “Once I found my proverbial sea legs, my law school experience was amazing. Despite all the challenges of law school, I loved it.”
For Williams, one of the highlights of being a law student was the day-to-day interaction with students and professors. “My professional experience as a trooper made me cynical and distrusting of people,” he says. “Interacting with my classmates, the professors and the law school staff restored my faith in people, and I’m grateful for that time and opportunity.”
As a student, Williams participated in the Lugar Trial Association and the Moot Court, both of which helped him develop his skill set. “Lugar was, and still is, a great way to develop both litigation and trial skills,” he says. “I feel the same about Moot Court. It is a great way to sharpen your appellate skills specifically, and it also gives you a chance to learn how to think on your feet. As any litigator will tell you, very rarely does an oral argument before a court go as planned.”
He also joined the Black Law Student Association (BLSA), which he describes as a beautiful oasis for minority students, particularly those not from West Virginia. “BLSA provided a sense of community and an opportunity to interact with students from diverse backgrounds,” he says. “The WVU College of Law rightly has an interest in qualified students who are diverse. Attracting those students can be a challenge for varying reasons, and, assuming we are successful in recruiting, what are those students offered in the form of support once they arrive? If they make it through law school, how can we keep them in West Virginia? It is my belief that if we can show those students a welcoming community and make them a part of that community so that they envision staying in West Virginia, we are more likely to keep them in the state.”
Williams has experienced firsthand how encouragement from others can make a world of difference. When he accepted a summer clerkship with Steptoe & Johnson after his first semester, he says the guidance and encouragement he received from his professors helped alter the direction in which he was moving.
“The fact that some of my law professors took an interest in me and in my success as a clerk was meaningful,” he says. “Their counsel provided me with a good perspective and undoubtedly made me a better clerk. When I returned to school after the clerkships ended, there were professors who invested in me. That trust was instrumental in my development as a lawyer.”
As graduation neared, Williams decided to leave the West Virginia State Police and stay with Steptoe & Johnson. His upcoming wedding was part of his motivation for that decision, and his summertime clerkship experiences contributed to his choosing that firm.
Williams never expected to find the same spirit of teamwork in a law firm setting that he had experienced as a state trooper, but his coworkers at Steptoe & Johnson proved him wrong.
“I cannot tell you why Steptoe & Johnson took a gamble on me, but I’m glad they did,” says Williams. “From the start of my career with them until today, there has always been someone within the firm willing to invest time to make me a better lawyer. And for those times when you need a soft place to land because you’ve had a rough day, there is always someone there. I can recall fumbling a matter I was working on for a senior member of the firm as an associate. After revealing the significant mistake, not only did the senior partner give me some great words of encouragement, but another member in the firm volunteered to stay late into the night to help me complete what needed to be completed. To my knowledge, no one ever kept score of that incident or used it against me. The incident never adversely impacted my career or, more importantly, adversely impacted the trust my partners put in me.”
Their selflessness made him want to work harder and show the same giving spirit to others. He does this not only as an attorney but as the co-leader of the General Litigation Practice Group, leader of the Emergency Response Team and member of the diversity and recruiting committees.
“In the General Litigation Practice Group, it is my job to identify strategies for the group based on input from the group members that fit with the firm’s overall objectives,” he says. “We listen to the needs and concerns of group members, address the needs or concerns as best we can, work with others in firm leadership positions and work to ensure the group is making a meaningful contribution to the firm’s success. For the Emergency Response Team, my job is to assemble, oversee and, if necessary, participate in coordinated emergency response efforts. Responses to client emergencies require fast thinking, quick action and sound decision-making. My state police training was good preparation.”
As a member of the firm’s recruiting and diversity committees, Williams aims to broaden diversity, find attorneys suited to the firm’s values and ensure they are knowledgeable on key issues. To strengthen its diversity efforts, Steptoe & Johnson has formed a partnership with the LCLD.
“LCLD is an organization that focuses on creating diversity in the legal profession,” he explains. “Because LCLD is a leader in this regard, and because LCLD’s mission aligns with Steptoe & Johnson’s beliefs, it was a natural partnership. Simply put, our profession is better with diverse attorneys in it.”
Williams, a West Virginia Bar Association fellow, carries his own experience with him as he mentors law students at the WVU College of Law. “All the students I’ve mentored have been ethnically diverse and from larger cities,” he says. “Typically, the College of Law is their first meaningful experience with the state of West Virginia. Frankly, West Virginia, through the eyes of a person with no prior experience with the state who may be from a metropolitan area or an area with more ethnic diversity, can be intimidating. I find that most of the students I deal with have similar questions or face similar issues, perceived or real. What I hope to bring to the table is perspective, particularly given that my experience with the state was similar to their experience.”
His experience since coming to West Virginia—where he has coached youth football, participated with Habitat for Humanity and even earned second place in a dance competition fundraiser for the Alzheimer’s Association—has been a positive one.
“Although I am not from West Virginia, I have lived in West Virginia longer than anywhere else,” he says. “I can honestly say that West Virginia raised me. Almost every important milestone in my life is connected to this state. The people of West Virginia have been good to me. Interestingly, I find that I can often be more protective of West Virginia than people born and raised within the state. West Virginia educated me, gave me more professional opportunities than I could have imagined and taught me how to love nature and countless other things that I may not have experienced living elsewhere. I am grateful for it all.”
Marc E. Williams
Managing Partner – West Virginia Office, Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough, LLP
By Jean Hardiman. Marc Williams’ father encouraged him and his brother, Steve, to lead. Leadership was an expectation his father held in high regard for his sons and one that Marc took to heart through college and law school and now as the managing partner of the West Virginia office of Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough, LLP.
Williams leads 18 attorneys in the Huntington office and six in the Columbia, SC, office, and he co-chairs the Consumer and Mechanical Product Liability Practice Group. He’s also served as president of three national legal organizations: DRI-The Voice of the Defense Bar, Lawyers for Civil Justice and the National Foundation for Judicial Excellence. Despite all this Southern West Virginia native has achieved outside the courtroom, he considers his greatest professional achievement his handling of more than 100 jury trials and appeals, an increasingly rare achievement that speaks to his clients’ confidence in him.
Williams first decided he wanted to be a trial attorney after reading “The Defense Never Rests” by F. Lee Bailey at age 11. “I was fascinated by Bailey’s stories of representing unpopular defendants,” he says. “From that point on, I was committed to going to law school to be a trial attorney.”
He graduated from Marshall University in 1982, where he served as student body president, and from the West Virginia University (WVU) College of Law in 1985, where he took on the role of president of the law school council. He learned a lot about written and oral advocacy through participation in the Moot Court. “That experience was truly life changing because it introduced me to an intellectual challenge that will be with me for the rest of my life,” he says. “I’ll never stop being fascinated by the theory behind the law and the process of providing justice to people who seek help from the law.”
It was the mentorship of Marshall University President Robert Hayes that led to Williams’ first job in the legal field. He was hired as a law clerk at Huddleston Bolen LLP in Huntington after his first year of law school, and after graduation, he began practicing there.
It was then that he became active in the Defense Trial Counsel of West Virginia, where he was named president in 1995. This launched him into leadership positions with the 23,000-member DRI. He was named president in 2008 and went on to serve as president of Lawyers for Civil Justice from 2013-2014 and president of the National Foundation for Judicial Excellence in 2014-2015.
“Serving as president of three national legal organizations was a wonderful opportunity to work at the national—and in the case of DRI, international—level on issues of importance to the justice system and to lawyers,” he says.
Williams and two partners opened the West Virginia office of Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough in 2009. “This firm gives us the goals and expectations for the office and then leaves it to us to execute the plan to fulfill those goals,” he says. “At the same time, the firm gives us all of the resources we need to be successful. That is one of the reasons we’ve been one of the fastest-growing offices in the firm.”
Being part of a national firm has had huge benefits for Williams’ career. “It’s given me exposure to clients and legal matters that I never would have had the opportunity to work with at a smaller firm,” he says. “Also, the larger firm gives me access to lawyers with expertise in an enormous range of practices that can assist my clients.”
Williams’ current focus areas include toxic tort cases, class actions, transportation incidents, commercial disputes and mass joinders of large numbers of plaintiffs. He’s been listed in the Best Lawyers in America in 11 categories and received Chambers USA’s highest designation for commercial litigation. Williams has also been inducted as a fellow in the prestigious American College of Trial Lawyers.
All the while, he’s committed time to community volunteerism, pro bono work and mentoring younger attorneys.
“I love my job, so it doesn’t seem like work to me,” he says. “Every day is an opportunity to learn, and I’m intellectually curious about a wide array of topics both related to my work and to my interests outside of work. I’ll never stop learning, and at the same time, I hope I never stop improving as a lawyer, as a leader, as a father, as a husband and as a man.”
Jackson J. Butler
Class of 2017, WVU College of Law
By Maggie Matsko. A native of Oklahoma City, OK, Jackson Butler had never visited the campus of West Virginia University (WVU) prior to packing up his car and moving to Morgantown. Not a day passes, though, that he isn’t reassured that enrolling in the WVU College of Law was the right decision for him.
After receiving his undergraduate degrees, Butler spent several years working in a variety of fields before deciding to attend law school.
“Working in those fields helped me understand the significance of law and how it dictates the framework of society,” he says. “I quickly realized not only that those who are versed in the law wield a powerful tool but that I needed to become one of those versed people.”
Butler’s time spent in Morgantown was most notably marked by his service as president of the Student Bar Association (SBA). In this role, he acted as the liaison between the student body and school administration.
“I saw SBA as a way to be involved with all facets of the school,” he says. “It was an opportunity to help shape my own environment rather than just have it shape me, to help improve things at the law school and to immerse myself in the culture.”
Under Butler’s direction, the SBA held several fundraisers to support local organizations. They organized a 5k that raised more than $1,000 for the Rape and Domestic Violence Information Center; a toy drive for families impacted by last year’s flood; a blood drive for the American Red Cross; and the first annual WVU College of Law Alumni Golf Scramble, which benefited Legal Aid of West Virginia.
His involvement in the SBA made him a better professional. “First and foremost, I perfected my time management skills,” he says. “Additionally, I was forced to learn to communicate across a massive group of people, focus a message and advocate for the interests of everyone.”
In the fall, Butler will pursue his LL.M. in taxation at Georgetown Law. As he continues his education, he will not soon forget the imprint WVU has left on him.
“Law school is challenging, but those challenges reach new heights when undertaken in a new place without any of your family or friends,” he says. “The people of WVU all welcomed me and became my support system. My success was largely because these people made me feel at home.”
Class of 2017, WVU College of Law
By Maggie Matsko. When Elizabeth Stryker graduated with her bachelor’s degree from West Virginia University (WVU), she accepted a banking position in Columbus, Ohio, intentionally distancing herself from the possibility of following her parents into the field of law. “It was during that time at the bank that I realized I was looking for something more,” she says. “Both of my parents are lawyers, and they’ve always suggested that I become a lawyer too. After years of protest, I finally realized they were right, and I enrolled.”
Stryker returned to Morgantown as a nontraditional student, which required a nontraditional mindset. “I went back to school with the mindset that I needed to treat my time in law school as a three-year networking and practical learning opportunity because my goal was—and still is—to be the best attorney I can be,” she says.
In her second year of law school, Stryker was elected to the position of chief justice of the Moot Court. In that role, she was responsible for selecting and budgeting for interscholastic traveling competitions, selecting new members for the board, organizing the logistics for in-house competitions and re-writing bylaws. She also helped rebrand the Moot Court, which resulted in WVU Law students excelling in more challenging rounds of competition at the Wagner National Labor and Employment Competition in New York City (NYC) and the NYC Bar National Moot Court Competition regional round in Richmond, VA.
For Stryker, Moot Court not only allowed her to represent WVU at interscholastic competitions but also prepared her for the future. “I could see how I had benefited from Moot Court when I joined the WVU Law Clinic for my 3L year,” she says. “I was very confident in the courtroom. I was able to deliver an oral argument to a judge and win a favorable ruling for my client.”
Stryker will be joining Steptoe & Johnson PLLC as an associate attorney in Morgantown in September 2017, where she plans to get involved in the local community. For her, it’s as much about being a great Mountaineer and helping other West Virginians as it is being the best lawyer she can be.
“It’s difficult for me to express just how much I love this state,” she says. “Being a West Virginian has created in me a fierce loyalty for my colleagues, clients and state. It makes me committed to seeing the people of our state succeed.”