WELCH – McDowell Judicial Circuit Judge Booker T. Stephens has announced his retirement, effective May 31.
Stephens, 74, sent his retirement letter to Gov. Jim Justice at the end of December, according to a state Supreme Court release. Stephens has been a circuit judge for 34 years. He was elected to the bench in 1984 and re-elected in 1992, 2000, 2008, and 2016.
“I think it’s really time for me to go and do something else,” he said. “I’ve been here a long time, and enjoyed it. We did some great things here. It’s time for someone else and for me to ride off into the sunset and do other things.”
He wants to travel and spend more time with his first grandson, who was born last year. He said he may do mediation and work in the law office of his wife, Welch attorney Gloria M. Stephens.
Stephens said he wanted to stay on the bench so he can preside over one last Law Day celebration on May 1. He founded the event in 1996 to promote the rule of law and showcase talents of McDowell County students.
Stephens and fellow Eighth Judicial Circuit Judge Rudolph J. Murensky II sponsor several contests each year for students centered on a Law Day topic chosen by the American Bar Association. Students receive awards at an event at the McDowell County Courthouse.
“I’m sure Judge Murensky and the judge who replaces me will continue it,” Stephens said, noting that he will miss the people he works with. “I’ve had very good people working with me and around me.
"I’ve been very thankful for the opportunity I’ve had over a number of years to be of service to the people of McDowell County and to the people of West Virginia.”
Stephens has been appointed numerous times to sit on the state Supreme Court when a justice has been recused. He has been a member of the Mass Litigation Panel since 1997. He was a member of the executive committee of the National Conference of State Trial Court Judges from 1996 to 1997.
“Judge Stephens is one of the longest-serving and most respected circuit judges in West Virginia. His wit, wisdom, incredible work ethic, and dedication to McDowell County are legendary,” state Supreme Court Chief Justice Beth Walker said.
Stephens was born in Bluefield and grew up in Warrior Mines. He graduated from West Virginia State College in 1966 with a bachelor’s degree in political science and Spanish and from Howard University School of Law in 1972. He served in the U.S. Army from 1966 to 1968.
He had a private practice in Welch from 1972 to 1984 and was an assistant prosecutor in McDowell County from 1976 to 1977. He was a member of the House of Delegates from 1978 to 1982.
He is a former member of the Board of West Virginia State University Foundation and a former member of the Executive Committee of the American Bar Association’s National Conference of State Trial Judges and Standing Committee on Minorities in the Judiciary.
Stephens has received numerous awards including Outstanding Judge of the Year (1993 and 2016); Governor’s Living The Dream Award, Martin L. King, Jr., Holiday Commission (2003); West Virginia Bar Foundation Fellow (2003); and Layman of the Year (1995) from the West Virginia Baptist State Layman’s Auxiliary.
Stephens and his wife are the parents of two adult children, Ciara and Booker II.