WELLSBURG - Friends, family and colleagues from all over the Mountain State gathered at the Brooke County Courthouse Monday to welcome Circuit Judge Martin Gaughan back to work, seven months after he suffered a stroke while in Charleston.
Beginning this week, Gaughan will resume his duties overseeing the First Judicial Circuit's drug and mental health court programs and gradually will pick up his regular docket as his health allows. His return to the bench was marked with a well-attended ceremony that coincided with the opening of West Virginia's first treatment court program geared specifically toward military veterans.
The dual celebration seemed fitting, as Gaughan has been recognized as a pioneer in establishing alternative sentencing programs in the Northern Panhandle.
WELCOME BACK — Circuit Judge Martin Gaughan, right, makes remarks after receiving a proclamation from the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, represented from left by Justices Brent Benjamin, Robin Jean Davis and Thomas McHugh. Gaughan is returning to work after suffering a stroke Nov. 12 in Charleston. Gaughan also was presented with the Distinguished West Virginian Award during the ceremony. -- Ian Hicks
Gaughan was in good spirits, smiling as he greeted a long line of well-wishers, both before the ceremony and afterward in his chambers. Signs remain that Gaughan not long ago was fighting for his life, however, including a rasp in his voice and the walker he still must use to get around.
Among those in attendance were West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Justices Robin Jean Davis, Thomas McHugh and Brent Benjamin, who presented Gaughan with a proclamation signed by every justice on the five-member court.
Davis commended Gaughan for his willingness to maintain a full caseload despite his extensive work with the drug and mental health court programs - something she noted Gaughan receives no additional pay to do.
"He has been a leader in our judiciary for years. ... The Northern Panhandle is so lucky to have such a hard working judge," Davis said.
"He has a depth of compassion for people that is second-to-none," said Benjamin. "He is a judge who cares."
Brooke County Chief Probation Officer Jim Lee said Gaughan is a man "with the courage to do something that wasn't popular," recalling public skepticism a decade ago when the drug and mental health treatment programs were in their infancy. Some at the time dismissed the idea as "soft on crime," Lee said, but he noted the recidivism rate among program participants is about one-fourth of that of offenders incarcerated without treatment.
Gaughan also received a proclamation from state Attorney General Darrell McGraw, and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's Deputy Chief of Staff Erica Mani, a Weirton native, presented Gaughan with the Distinguished West Virginian Award, which is the highest honor a Mountain State governor can bestow on a resident.
Gaughan said he was honored but somewhat embarrassed by all the attention.
"I had no idea today was going to be 'Martin Gaughan Day,' ... I've only done my job," he said.
Following the ceremony, Gaughan said he's excited about coming back to work, noting even early on in the recovery process, he was looking forward to donning the robe once again.
"Before I got out of bed, I was thinking about coming back," Gaughan said.
Gaughan, first appointed to the bench in 1995 by then-Gov. Gaston Caperton, is currently serving in his third eight-year term as a circuit judge. He next faces re-election in 2016.