CHARLESTON — Former state Supreme Court Justice Elliott “Spike” Maynard has died. He was 71.
Maynard, who also was a prosecutor and circuit judge in Mingo County, had been in Charleston Area Medical Center’s Intensive Care Unit since early April.
A Democrat for most of his life, Maynard served as a state Supreme Court justice from 1996 to 2008. After his unsuccessful re-election bid in 2008, the conservative Maynard switched to the Republican Party to run against Rep. Nick Rahall in the 3rd District House seat. He lost that race as well.
“I’m incredibly sad to learn of the passing of Justice Maynard,” said Conrad Lucas, chairman of the state Republican Party. “Spike was a true West Virginian, a brilliant legal mind and a champion of the conservative cause.
“From his time fighting crime as a prosecutor to his days steadying our Supreme Court, Spike held high the concept of justice and worked to pull this state up at every turn.
“Spike’s counsel will live on for so many of us. In losing Spike, West Virginia lost a leader, a pioneer, a genius and a legend. Many of us lost a great friend today and we lift up his family and those closest to him in their time of need. May God bless you, Spike Maynard.”
Maynard was born and grew up in Williamson. He joined the Air Force, and earned a bachelor’s degree from Florida Southern College in 1967. He earned his law degree from West Virginia University in 1974.
He was a private attorney and soon was elected Mingo County’s prosecuting attorney. In 1981, then-Gov. Jay Rockefeller appointed Maynard to serve as circuit judge in Mingo County, a position he held until he was elected to the Supreme Court in 1996.
A press release from the state Supreme Court regarding Maynard’s death cited “his piercing gaze, quick wit, folksy anecdotes, and biting writing style that could cut to the core of an argument.”
Supreme Court Chief Justice Robin Jean Davis said, “I’m devastated at the loss of one of the best friends I’ll ever have. His charm and wit, his grace and kindness, his wisdom and insight – life just won’t be the same.”
Justice Brent D. Benjamin said, “Justice Spike Maynard practiced law, served the people of Mingo County as both a prosecutor and circuit judge, and served West Virginia as both a Justice and Chief Justice on our Supreme Court of Appeals. He loved the law. He loved West Virginia. And, with all his heart, he loved Mingo County. In many ways, Spike was larger than life. Yet the Spike I got to know was a quiet, considerate and compassionate man, a man with a warm smile and a deep concern about protecting children and helping those victimized by crime. It was a pleasure serving with Justice Maynard. My heart goes out to his loved ones.”
Justice Margaret Workman said, “I am very sad to learn of Justice Elliott Maynard’s death. I was in law school with him, and later had the pleasure of serving with him on the Supreme Court of Appeals. He was smart, funny, charming, and so easy to get along with. He loved to talk about art and opera and theater. … When you sit next to someone every day, you learn a lot about them. Spike Maynard was a very kind person and he cared about people. As a Judge, he knew when to be tough and when to be compassionate. He was a true gentleman. My deepest sympathies to his family and many friends.”
Former Justice Thomas McHugh said, “He was a leader of the Court. He was able to bring his experience as a circuit judge to the Supreme Court. He had great experience. He espoused his positions very strongly on things he believed. I appreciate the fact that he appointed me when Justice Albright was ill.”
Maynard appointed McHugh to fill in for Justice Joseph P. Albright in September 2008 when Albright notified the Court he could not serve because of illness. After Albright’s death in March 2009, McHugh filled out the remainder of his term through 2012.
Supreme Court Administrator Steve Canterbury added, “We’ll all miss the sweetness of his voice.”
Lucas said he first met Maynard in 2010 and “quickly came to know him as a friend.”
“As a proud son of Mingo County, Spike embodied the role of a classic southern gentleman,” Lucas said. “Spike will go down in history as one of the most colorful and charming individuals ever to enter public life in the Mountain State.
“Those who know Spike well can easily recall his good-hearted nature, gentility and quick wit. I can’t imagine a single person who met Spike who will ever forget him.”
Lucas said Maynard’s switch to the GOP was a turning point for the party.
“Several years ago, Spike took a political risk to join the Republican Party and quickly became part of our team,” Lucas said. “There is no doubt he paved the way for others to follow in his footsteps.
“In mourning his loss, I am proud that in his final years he was part of our political family.”
Many remember Maynard for a controversy near the end of his Supreme Court term that might have cost him his seat on the bench.
In 2008, he ruled to overturn a $50 million Boone County verdict against Massey Energy, which was operated by lifelong friend Don Blankenship. That was after photos surfaced of Maynard and Blankenship vacationing together in the French Riviera in 2006. Maynard recused himself when the court reconsidered the case, but he still lost his re-election bid.
After that defeat, Maynard served as a Senior Status Justice and presided in several circuit court cases in which the sitting circuit judge was recused.
He served as Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court in 2000, 2004, and 2008. In 2000, he advocated for community corrections and alternative sanctions for certain criminal offenders, and his support was a key to the passage of community corrections laws in 2001. In his last year as Chief Justice, he initiated a mock trial program for middle schools called West Virginia Law Adventure.
He was born in Williamson on Dec. 8, 1942, and graduated from Belfry High School in 1960. He joined the United States Air Force in 1961, and he was attached to a reconnaissance group during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Soon, he was assigned to the 306th Bomb Wing in the Strategic Air Command and was honorably discharged in 1966.
From 1968 to 1970 he was Managing Director of the Tug Valley Chamber of Commerce. He was engaged in the private practice of law in Williamson from 1974 to 1981.
Maynard also was involved for more than 30 years with the Boy Scouts of America and was District Chairman of the Mingo-Pike District and District Chairman of the Chief Cornstalk District. He served on the Board of the Buckskin Council and received the Silver Beaver Award, the highest volunteer award in scouting.
He was a member of the American Judges Association, the American Bar Association, the American Judicature Society, the West Virginia Bar Association, the National District Attorneys Association, the Charleston Rotary Club, and other fraternal organizations.
Maynard always was quick to share his love of Mingo County, and that wasn’t more evident than a 2007 interview with the Williamson Daily News.
“Whatever success I have been lucky to have in my life came in large part because of the people in Mingo County and the things I learned from them growing up,” he said then. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
“I grew up in an amazing place. I often think how lucky I have been in my life, and I have been. One of the luckiest things was growing up in Mingo County in the ’50s and ’60s. I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything on the planet.
“My truest, and best, and closest friends are all in Mingo County. Real friends are the people you grew up with and know all your life. The real treasures of my life are the people in the Tug Valley area.
“I’d rather be in Mingo County, West Virginia, than any place on the planet. That’s principally because of family and friends. When I leave this world I will be buried there.”