Charleston, WV – The legal community of West Virginia, and indeed the entire state, is in mourning today as they bid farewell to a beloved member of their judicial family. Thirteenth Judicial Circuit (Kanawha County) Judge Joanna Tabit passed away, leaving behind a legacy of excellence, mentorship, and civic engagement that will be remembered for generations to come.
Judge Tabit was a West Virginian through and through, not just a judge. Her Charleston heritage, educational background, and dedication to West Virginia serve as evidence of her steadfast loyalty to the state’s residents and legal system.
Judge Tabit was recalled with affection by Chief Justice Beth Walker, who said, “Judge Joanna Tabit was a valued West Virginian and member of our judiciary family. Her dedication to her career, friendly demeanour, and kind nature have always been something I have respected. She served as a mentor to so many younger solicitors, including myself, and her loss is still felt today. We are praying for Judge Tabit and her family.” These words echo the sentiments of a legal community that deeply respected and cherished Judge Tabit.
Justice John Hutchison, who had known and worked with Judge Tabit for three decades, spoke of her dual excellence as both a trial attorney and a judge. He said, “I know her to have been one of the best trial attorneys West Virginia has ever seen, and I also know her as one of the finest judges that West Virginia has ever had.” His condolences extended to her family and colleagues, underscoring the profound impact she had on everyone she encountered.
Justice Haley Bunn, another colleague on the bench, expressed her devastation at the loss. She remembered Judge Tabit as a wonderful colleague, a former companion in private practice, and a true friend. Justice Bunn’s thoughts were with Judge Tabit’s family and the entire West Virginia legal community as they grappled with the unexpected loss.
Chief Thirteenth Judicial Circuit Judge Tera Salango, speaking on behalf of the Kanawha County circuit judges, magistrates, family court judges, and their staffs, summed up their collective grief, saying, “We all share the same sentiment – utter heartbreak.” It was evident that Judge Tabit’s passing had left a void that would not easily be filled.
At the time of her untimely death, Judge Tabit held significant roles within the West Virginia judicial system. She was the chair of the Mass Litigation Panel, a member of the Juvenile Justice Commission, and a former member of the Business Court Division. Her dedication to her work extended beyond the courtroom, and she played a crucial role in shaping the legal landscape of her state.
Born and raised in Charleston, Judge Tabit’s journey to the bench was marked by excellence and dedication. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Marshall University in 1983 and her law degree from West Virginia University College of Law in 1986. Her educational achievements laid the foundation for a remarkable legal career.
Judge Tabit embarked on her legal career in 1986 as a personal law clerk to former Supreme Court Justice Thomas E. McHugh, setting the stage for her future in the legal world. Following her clerkship, she served as an assistant and then as deputy attorney general of the Appellate Division in the Office of the Attorney General from 1989 to 1992, working under the administrations of Attorneys General Roger Tompkins and Mario Palumbo.
Judge Tabit joined the famous Steptoe & Johnson PLLC law firm in 1992, where she rose to the position of recognised member attorney. She remained with the business until October 2014, when Governor Earl Ray Tomblin appointed her to the Kanawha County court, demonstrating her legal knowledge and commitment to justice. She went on to win the election in 2016 and now serves as a shining example of justice in the West Virginia legal system.
Beyond the courtroom, Judge Tabit provided valuable contributions. She taught summer appellate advocacy at the West Virginia University College of Law as an adjunct lecturer, sharing her knowledge in the field. Her dedication to fostering the following generation of lawyers was clearly evidence of her enthusiasm for the law and commitment to legal education.
Furthermore, Judge Tabit was deeply involved in professional and civic organizations. She served as Co-Chair of the Campaign for Legal Aid of West Virginia, demonstrating her commitment to ensuring access to justice for all. Her dedication to community service was also reflected in her service on the board of directors for the YWCA of Charleston, her chairmanship of the Access to Justice Foundation, and her role as a member of the board of governors of the West Virginia State Bar.
In recognition of her outstanding legal career, Judge Tabit received numerous accolades. During her time in private practice, she was rated an AV lawyer by Martindale Hubbell and recognized by Chambers USA as a Leader in the Field with a specialty in commercial litigation. Additionally, she earned recognition from The Best Lawyers in America and Super Lawyers in various practice areas. In 2009, Judge Tabit was honored with the “Outstanding Private Practice Attorney” award presented by the Women’s Law Caucus at West Virginia University College of Law, a testament to her leadership in the legal field.
Judge Tabit was honoured as “Charleston’s Finest” by the Kentucky/West Virginia branch of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation for her volunteer work outside of her legal career. Her engagement to philanthropy served as a testament to her caring character and determination to improving the lives of others.
Judge Joanna Tabit’s demise affects the entire state of West Virginia in addition to the legal community. Her commitment to justice, mentoring, and tireless support of her community have made a lasting impression. Her legacy of achievement will continue to motivate future generations of attorneys and judges as West Virginia mourns the passing of a legal legend and a dear friend.