CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) – The West Virginia Association for Justice is honoring Justice Margaret Workman with its 2021 Caplan Award.
The association says Workman was chosen “in recognition of her lifetime of service to the West Virginia Courts and the practice of law.” Workman recently retired after more than 40 years of service to the state’s judicial system. In her long career, she served eight years as a circuit court judge and two terms as a West Virginia Supreme Court justice, during which she was chief justice of the Court five times.
“For more than 40 years, Justice Margaret Workman has been a leader in West Virginia and our state’s legal community. Her contributions to the practice of law and management of our state courts are innumerable. Her work resulted in substantial improvements to West Virginia’s court system and how cases are handled, especially in the areas of domestic violence, cases involving children and juvenile justice, civil litigation, and court administration,” said Jonathan Mani, the 2020 – 2021 WVAJ president.
The annual Caplan Award is a lifetime service award named to honor the late Justice Fred H. Caplan, who served on the WV Supreme Court of Appeals from 1962 to 1980. Workman said receiving the award is an honor and is grateful for the recognition.
“I am honored to receive the Caplan Award. As a judge for thirty years, I tried to be fair, diligent, and faithful to the rule of law. I had the great opportunity to make improvements to both the law and to the administration of our judicial system. It is immensely gratifying that a group of practicing lawyers believe I did a good job,” said Justice Workman.
Workman’s career in public service began when she was only 18-years-old, working part-time in the West Virginia governor’s office and then landing a job in the West Virginia Secretary of State’s office, according to a press release. After she graduated from WVU’s College of Law in 1974, she began her legal career as assistant counsel to the majority of the U.S. Public Works Committee, and then came back to the Mountain State working as a law clerk for Kanawha County’s 13th Circuit Court.
After going into private practice, the WV Association for Justice says Workman got involved with the association, then called the West Virginia Trial Lawyers Association, where she eventually became executive director.
She was appointed to Kanawha County’s circuit court bench in 1981, making her the youngest judge in West Virginia, and only the second woman in the role. Between 1981 and 1988, she held more jury trials than any other West Virginia judge.
“Justice Workman also blazed a path for women attorneys and women professionals. At a time when most women lawyers were still in support roles, Justice Workman opened her own law practice and then became the youngest circuit court judge in the state,” Mani said. “In 1988 she became the first woman elected to the West Virginia Supreme Court, as well as the first woman elected to statewide office in West Virginia’s history. She is a stalwart example of what can be accomplished with hard work and determination despite the challenges that exist.”
Workman first ran for the state supreme court in 1988 and was elected to serve from 1989 to 2000. During that time, she spearheaded creating a family court system, worked closely on improvements to the West Virginia Coalition, established the Task Force on Gender Fairness in the Courts and was involved in multiple other projects, according to the West Virginia Association for Justice.
She was elected to the court again in 2008 and served from 2009 to her retirement at the end of her term in 2020. During this term, she established the Juvenile Justice Commission and worked to improve court facilities and modernize the judicial budgetary process.
Workman says she is thankful to have served the state alongside many other justices throughout her time in the Court.
“I was also fortunate to join the Court at a time when I could serve with and learn from individuals who I believe will be remembered as some of the West Virginia’s greatest justices, including Justice Thomas Miller, Justice Thomas McHugh and Justice Frank Cleckley and at a time when the law of West Virginia was evolving in such significant ways,” Workman said. “I served with 20 other justices during my time on the Court. We had different backgrounds and different philosophies, but we worked together to make what we believed were the best decisions based on the law.”