Former West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Warren McGraw dies at 84

Jun 15, 2023, 2:36 PM

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Warren McGraw, a former West Virginia Supreme Court justice who spent five decades in public service, has died at age 84, a Supreme Court spokeswoman said Thursday.

Court spokeswoman Jennifer Bundy confirmed McGraw’s death but had no additional information. Blue Ridge Funeral Home & Memorial Gardens in Beckley said it was in charge of funeral arrangements, which were incomplete.

McGraw, who died Wednesday, had retired as a county circuit judge in 2021, citing the physical impairments due to Parkinson’s disease.

Mike Pushkin, the state Democratic Party chairman and a member of the House of Delegates, said Warren was “a tireless advocate for working people and those who are too often left behind.”

”Warren McGraw never forgot that a society is measured by how it treats its weakest members. From the school board to the legislature, to the halls of the supreme court, he fought with every ounce of his ability to improve the lives of the poor and those struggling to make a better life for themselves and for their families,” Pushkin said.

McGraw earned a bachelor’s degree from Morris Harvey College and a law degree from Wake Forest University. He served five terms in the Legislature as a Democrat, including four years as Senate president.

After losing in the 1984 primary for governor, McGraw later was elected to the Wyoming County school board. He also was the prosecutor in Wyoming County from 1996 to 1998 before being elected to fill an unexpired six-year term on the state Supreme Court in 1998.

McGraw lost his bid for a full 12-year term to Republican Brent Benjamin in a hotly contested election in 2004. Advertisements financed largely by then-Massey Energy President and CEO Don Blankenship targeted McGraw.

During an annual Labor Day picnic and rally that year, McGraw warned the largely union crowd that corporate interests were focused on him because of his lifelong support of “the working man.” McGraw said he believed the attacks stemmed not so much from his six years on the Supreme Court, but on his push as a legislator to tax coal in the 1970s.

“It’s been this underlying factor,” he said. “I was the sponsor of the coal severance tax in West Virginia. Millions and millions of dollars have been paid on that tax, and I’m sure the coal industry has never forgotten.”

Benjamin become the first non-incumbent Republican to win a state Supreme Court seat since the 1920s. Judicial elections in West Virginia became nonpartisan in 2016.

“As the son of a disabled coal miner, McGraw knew the struggles that faced coal mining families in West Virginia, and he dedicated his life to fighting for miners and their families,” United Mine Workers of America President Cecil E. Roberts said in a statement. “We have lost a warrior. We have lost a friend.”

After his defeat, McGraw was elected as a circuit judge in Wyoming County in 2008 and reelected in 2016 before retiring in 2021. His brother, Darrell V. McGraw Jr., also served in the Supreme Court and was a five-term state attorney general.

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Former West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Warren McGraw dies at 84