CHARLESTON – About a month into her latest stint at Chief Justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court, Margaret Workman is eager to tackle some lofty goals for 2015.
“Things are going well,” Workman said of the current term so far.
Workman, who was most recently elected to the Supreme Court in 2008, was the first woman elected to the Court and to a statewide office in 1988. She previously has served as Chief Justice in 1993, 1997, and 2011.
During her last time as Chief Justice, Workman focused on improving rehabilitation services for juveniles and established the Adjudicated Juveniles Rehabilitation Commission, now the Juvenile Justice Commission, which monitors juvenile justice facilities and works to improve rehabilitative services.
That continued the work she had started during her first term on the bench when she fostered a close working relationship between the court system and domestic violence programs, and she visited many shelters to learn how the court system could be more effective in addressing domestic violence.
Also as Chief Justice, she created the Task Force on Gender Fairness in the Courts and the Task Force on the Future of the Judiciary. She formed the Broadwater Committee, which made reforms in the court system's response to children's issues and spearheaded the development of rules governing child abuse and neglect cases.
She said she wants to continue that work this year.
“The biggest plan I have is to make progress in the juvenile justice arena,” Workman said. “I also want to work to streamline some accounting procedures. I want to the Court to continue to be frugal with public money and to be transparent.”
She said legislative actions have forced the administrative side of the court to “grow by leaps and bounds” in recent years. She said it’s time to look at streamlining what can be.
As for continuing the juvenile justice focus, Workman it’s about doing what is right.
“Back in 2011, we really wanted to see what we could learn about the entire system because when judges sign the orders to put kids away, we want to be sure that we’re the best job it can do in offering rehabilitative services,” she said. “Not only because it’s the right thing to do to try to reform someone when they’re young, but it’s going to be better for public safety and for the public purse in the long run.”
She said the state already has benefitted from what she did four years ago.
“What we started with that commission has led to working with the Pew Charitable Trust. Foundation, which has a lot of resources,” Workman said. “They have come into West Virginia because they were interested when we showed a lot of interest.
“And now, it’s all three branches of government working to make the best juvenile justice system we can.”
Additionally, Workman said the Court needs to start looking at expanding the success of the drug court system. The state Legislature has mandated that every area of the state have one by the end of 2016.
“But part of the problem we’re seeing is that, in some counties, we don’t have the services to offer,” Workman said. “I’ve been telling the Legislature that we need more resources if judges are going to find alternatives.
“Drug courts only work if we have ways to help people work on their problems.”
Workman was born in Charleston, the daughter of Mary Emma Thomas Workman and Frank Eugene Workman, a coal miner whose ancestors were among the first settlers of Boone County. Workman attended Kanawha County public schools and was the first in her family to go to college. She attended West Virginia University and the West Virginia University College of Law.
After she received her law degree in 1974, she served as assistant counsel to the majority of the U.S. Senate Public Works Committee, the chairman of which was Senator Jennings Randolph of West Virginia. She returned to West Virginia to work as a law clerk in Kanawha Circuit Court.
In 1976, she served as an advance person in the Carter Presidential Campaign, and she later worked on the campaign staff of then-Governor Jay Rockefeller. She then opened her own law office in Charleston.
In 1981, Justice Workman became the youngest circuit court judge in the state when Rockefeller appointed her to the Kanawha Circuit Court. She ran for the unexpired term in 1982 and the full term in 1984.
As a circuit judge, Workman inherited West Virginia's largest backlog of cases, and during her tenure on the court reduced it to the lowest level in the judicial circuit. She held more jury trials than any other circuit judge in the state during the same period. She also visited every prison and secure juvenile correctional facility in West Virginia.
Workman has been active in church and community activities, and she is the mother of Lindsay, Chris, and Ted Gardner, and the grandmother of Lilly Elizabeth Gardner.