Judge recognized in publication
First Judicial Circuit Family Court Judge Joyce Dumbaugh Chernenko is one of 15 attorneys honored through the Lawyers and Leaders honors program launched this year by West Virginia Executive magazine and the West Virginia University College of Law.
West Virginia Executive editor Samantha Cart said the 15 were chosen for their service to others and their communities and had to be WVU law graduates or actively practicing in the Mountain State to be considered for the honor.
Gregory Bowman, dean of the WVU College of Law, said, “The honorees are a group of hardworking, generous individuals, and their success is evident in their accomplishments and their community involvement.”
In addition to appearing in the magazine’s summer 2017 issue, the 15 were guests of honor at a reception at the WVU Law Event Hall.
A profile written by Katlin Swisher for the issue notes Chernenko was born and raised in Weirton and is a graduate of Bethany College, where she earned an undergraduate degree in communications.
Chernenko said because of its ethnic diversity, Weirton “was a phenomenal place to grow up. 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.”
Of her alma mater, she said, “My undergraduate experience at Bethany College molded my life philosophy. 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.”
After earning a law degree from the WVU, Chernenko practiced domestic relations law for 14 years.
She was appointed family law court judge by Gov. Gaston Caperton in 1996, and then elected to the position in 2002.
Over the last 20 years she has presided over legal proceedings involving divorce, parenting, paternity, guardianship and child support, as well as civil domestic violence cases.
The article notes Chernenko’s concern for the well being of the children involved, which led her to create separate rooms where they could be while their cases were heard in the courtrooms of Hancock and Ohio counties, where she serves.
She recruited Bethany College students to decorate the room in Ohio County with a bright mural.
While the Ohio County children’s room was supported by a $2,500 grant, Chernenko and her husband, Marc, funded the one in Hancock County.
Chernenko noted the rooms also provide a comfortable, flexible space for her to interview children.
Inspired by the efforts of an Eastern Panhandle family court judge, Chernenko also worked with others to establish a parent mediation program for the court that she said has resulted in many custody cases, even the most contentious ones, being resolved outside the courtroom.
She also launched a parent education program designed to “open 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.”
“The class shows them just how harmful these actions are to their children, with hopes of minimizing the negativity and bad acts,” Chernenko said.
Chernenko also has served as mentor to Bethany College pre-law students during internships in her court and since 1996, has advised the women of Bethany’s chapter of Zeta Tau Alpha, of which she is a member.
Of being recognized by West Virginia Executive, Chernenko said, “I felt that I really should have been accepting it on behalf of all of West Virginia’s family court judges. All are so hardworking and care passionately about the welfare of children and families.”
She added, “Growing up in Weirton, and now living in Brooke County, I have always been thankful that, where we live, people work hard, neighbors look out for one another, and family is the number one priority.
“There is no better place to live.”