CHARLESTON – Former state Supreme Court Justice Thomas Miller was the epitome of what a judge should be, many members of the legal community said.
Miller, 79, died Tuesday at his home in Wheeling. He served on the state Supreme Court from 1977 until his retirement in 1994.
"He was the epitome of what a justice should be: simply a wonderful man, decent, honorable, professional at all times, a perfect gentleman," Supreme Court Justice Robin Jean Davis said. "He was a true scholar of the law."
Fellow Justices Larry Starcher and Brent Benjamin agreed.
"The news of the passing of Justice Thomas Miller saddens us all," Benjamin said. "Justice Miller was a kind man and a fine judge. He served the people of West Virginia with dignity, compassion and humility. My prayers are with Justice Miller's family."
Starcher noted Miller's legacy.
"Justice Miller was one of the intellectual giants of our Court in recent years," he said. "The opinions that he wrote are referred to by lawyers on a regular basis."
Miller was elected to the Supreme Court in 1976 and re-elected to a second 12-year term in 1988. He served as chief justice in 1982, 1985-1986, and 1991. In 1980, he received a Certificate of Merit from the National Juvenile Law Center for work in the field of juvenile law.
The president of the West Virginia Association for Justice also heaped praise on Miller.
"Thomas Miller was the model for what a great Supreme Court justice should be: intelligent, thoughtful, just and compassionate," Allan N. Karlin said. "He was a scholar of the law who never forgot that the court's decisions were about real people with real problems.
"Justice Miller reached the highest position in our judicial system, but never let his success allow him to forget who he was or what he stood for. He was a justice with unquestioned integrity who was always respectful of those who appeared before him. Together with his colleagues, he modernized our judicial and legal systems and led the West Virginia Supreme Court in addressing new problems and new issues that affected the lives of all West Virginians. He was not only a great justice, but also an outstanding human being. His memory should serve as an example for us all."
Steve Cohen, executive director of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, noted Miller's temperament.
"He was a stabilizing force on the court, a voice of reason," Cohen said.
Margaret Workman, a candidate for the Supreme Court this fall and a former Justice, called Miller "a great guy."
"I thought the world of him," Workman said. "Justice (Frank) Cleckley said Justice Miller was the greatest to ever serve on the West Virginia Supreme Court, and I agree. He had all of the good qualities I would look for in a judge. He had a brilliant legal mind, a good heart and was very fair."
Fellow Supreme Court candidate Menis Ketchum said Miller was known for being fair and impartial.
"He was considered nationwide as an excellent, excellent jurist," Ketchum said. "That's really saying something, I think, for a West Virginia Justice."
Workman recalled the 1988 campaign when she and Miller both were running for the court.
"The more I saw him on the campaign trail, the more I just admired him," she said. "He was not a political animal. He was very distinguished. And he was so encouraging to me. He mentored me in a lot of ways."
Workman also noted his legacy.
"His impact on the development of law in West Virginia is just immense," she said. "Part of that was the timing. The law was changing in America."
Off the bench, she said Miller was a delight.
"He had a fantastic sense of humor," Workman said. "He was fun to work with, but he also was fun to be with. He had a very dry wit and was very kind … such a gentleman. He was courteous to every litigant and every lawyer."
When she decided to seek election to the Court again this year, she said she talked to Miller.
"He encouraged me to run again," she said. "He told me, 'We need you back there.'"
Wheeling attorney Teresa Toriseva lived near Miller.
"Justice Miller was an outstanding lawyer, Supreme Court justice, man and friend," said Toriseva, former president of the WVAJ. "He and his wife Vaughn have been my neighbor for the last 6 years.
"He is thought by most in the legal community to have been one of the greatest minds to ever serve on the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. He was funny and smart and kind, and he lived his life as an example to others of how to leave the world better than you find it. As a lawyer, he was always a role model to me.
"I will miss him. We will all miss him."
After his retirement, he served as a special counsel with Schrader, Byrd & Companion, the Wheeling law firm where he practiced law for nearly 20 years before his election to the court.
As an attorney, Miller served as a member of the Unlawful Practice Committee of the West Virginia State Bar and as a member of the West Virginia Board of Law Examiners.
He was a 1956 graduate of the West Virginia University College of Law, where he was a member of the West Virginia Law Review. He also was a graduate of the University of Virginia, where he was a member of the NROTC.
After his graduation in 1950, he received a commission as an ensign in the United States Navy. He was assigned to the U.S.S. Leyte Gulf, an aircraft carrier. The ship served in the Seventh Fleet off Korea during the Korean War. He was honorably discharged as a Lieutenant (JG) in 1953.
Visitation was scheduled for Thursday at Kepner Funeral Home in Wheeling. A funeral service was scheduled for Friday at Christ United Methodist Church in Wheeling.
Miller is survived by his wife, Vaughn Nolte Miller, and four sons.