WINFIELD – Former Putnam Circuit Judge O.C. “Hobby” Spaulding died Wednesday of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, according to State Police. He was 69.
Spaulding retired from the bench at the end of 2011 after being diagnozed with ALS, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s disease, earlier in the year. He served as ajudge for 20 years.
“He was a mentor to scores of judges and one of the real deans of the bench," West Virginia Supreme Court Chief Justice Robin Jean Davis said of Spaulding. "He was always true to the rule of law and to the people he served.
"He was just a great guy. He will be truly missed by everyone who knew him in the judicial community.”
Other Justices also have fond memories of Spaulding.
“I am deeply saddened by the loss of a great friend and colleague," Justice Margaret L. Workman said. "We went to law school together and as our careers took similar paths I grew to admire his spirit, humor, intelligence, and kindness.
"My heart goes out to Janie and to all of the other people who loved and admired Hobby. A bright and shining light has truly left our midst and he will never be forgotten.”
Justice Brent D. Benjamin agreed.
“Judge Spaulding was an outstanding judge and human being," he said. "I had the privilege of knowing Hobby as a fellow judge and as a presiding judge while I was in private practice.
"He was kind, hard-working, brilliant, and, above all, just. I am deeply saddened by his passing. He and his loved ones are in my prayers.”
Justice Allen Loughry also admired Spaulding.
“Judge Spaulding was an extremely hard-working and respected judge,” Loughry said. “He was a kind and intelligent man who served the citizens of West Virginia with honor. I will miss his quick wit, his sense of humor, and his passion for the law.”
Supreme Court Administrative Director Steve Canterbury called Spaulding a friend.
“Hobby Spaulding was one of the most articulate people who ever presided from the bench,” Canterbury said Wednesday. “It was especially difficult when the Lou Gehrig’s disease began by taking away his ability to speak. But with good humor, he carried on with the help of a speaking machine, which he would use to type his worlds.
"Ultimately, the disease progressed to where he could not swallow. For some three years he carried on while being fed through a tube. Ultimately, the disease progressed further and created some other complications and this evening he took a decisive final step.
“He was also a friend of mine. And some of the best memories of my life are the deep discussions where we ‘solved all the problems of the world’ while taking long walks in a deep woods.”
Spaulding was elected to the circuit court in 1992 and re-elected in 2000 and 2008. When he ran for the bench, he refused to accept campaign contributions.
He was Putnam County's prosecutor from 1987 to 1992 and an assistant prosecutor for 10 years before that. He also had a private law practice in Teays Valley from 1973 to 1987.
He was born in Fairmont and grew up in Huntington. He spent one year at
Marshall University before graduating from the University of Kentucky in 1967 and West
Virginia University College of law in 1973.
Spaulding received the Children’s Justice Task Force’s Extra Mile Award, and he received outstanding contribution awards from the Prosecuting Attorneys Association and the Public Defenders Corporation.
In 2013, the O.C. Spaulding Training Center at the Putnam County Youth Reporting Center was named in his honor.
Several times, Supreme Court Chief Justices appointed him to serve on the Supreme Court when a justice could not serve on a case. The Supreme Court also appointed Spaulding to serve on the Judicial Investigation Commission and as the judicial representative on legislative commissions on Eyewitness Identification and Residential Placement of Children.
He served as President and Vice-President of the West Virginia Judicial Association and often taught other circuit judges in the state at judicial association meetings.
After dating more than 35 years, Spaulding married Cabell Circuit Judge Jane Hustead on Thanksgiving Day 2011.