CHARLESTON – Two years after leaving the state Supreme Court, former Justice Brent Benjamin has joined Bailey & Wyant as an Of Counsel member.
“I’m just really excited to be a part of the firm,” Benjamin said. “It’s a growing firm, and they’re dedication to their clients is something I was aware of as a judge.
“It’s a large enough firm that I can expand my interest in appellate consulting and appellate practice. And, in turn, I give them, I hope, a good attorney to serve their clients. I think it’s a good fit for me and for the firm.”
Benjamin, 61, was in solo practice for two years after leaving the court at the end of 2016.
“Chuck Bailey had always told me if I had an interest in joining the firm to call him,” Benjamin told The West Virginia Record. “I thought it was time for me to expand my practice.
“Obviously, the appellate consulting and practice are unique areas that my background gives me interest and experience in. Plus, there is mediation and dispute resolution. That’s something I find is a lot of fun, getting to work with attorneys and clients trying to solve cases in a quick manner. We generally get good results.
“But litigation … that’s my first love. Always has been.”
Benjamin said the transition of joining the firm has been easy.
“My former firm was Robinson & McElwee, and our offices are in the ones that formerly housed Robinson & McElwee until 2004. So in some ways, I’m back home. I practiced law here for 20 years.
“The folks here have been wonderful. They support for me as an individual and as an attorney. And the clients are wonderful to work with. It’s been pretty easy. I just feel at home.”
Bailey said the firm is happy to have Benjamin on the team.
“All of the attorneys were buzzing around the office, excited that Justice Benjamin was going to be joining the firm,” he told The Record. “We immediately laid appellate matters in which this firm is involved on his desk. We now have someone who deliberated cases and authored opinions for 12 years at the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia.
“The opportunity for a firm to have a former justice with such experience is rare.”
Bailey said Benjamin bolsters the firm’s presence statewide and nationally.
“He is known by judges and justices throughout the country,” Bailey said. “He knows each present and former justice and nearly all of the judges, federal and state, in West Virginia. His insight will benefit all present and future clients of the firm and will enhance the quality of the firm’s attorneys.
“Justice Benjamin fits perfectly with the firm not just because of his affable personality, but because he brings to the firm a type of experience and background different from the other lawyers in the firm. The attorneys are drawn to him because of his judicial experience.”
Because of that experience, Benjamin still speaks and lectures locally and nationally. And, he takes part in moot court competitions around the country.
“I’ll be doing some lecturing here soon in West Virginia on appellate practice,” he said. “Nationally, I speak at law schools and to other groups on appellate issues. I still keep an interest and activity in those areas. Plus, it enhances what I do from a practice standpoint.”
Benjamin said the appellate consulting is something he finds interesting. He explained it as helping attorneys prepare for arguments before the state Supreme Court or federal appeals courts by helping write briefs and preparing them to argue motions.
“It makes sense when you’re arguing before an appellate bench that you have a judge consultant,” he said. “Having spent 12 years on the bench, I have a sensitivity and idea of what judges are looking for. We can’t guarantee a win, but we can help them prepare a better argument so they have a better chance to win.”
During his 12 years on the Supreme Court, the Marietta, Ohio, native received numerous honors and initiating a number of significant programs including a statewide Drug Court System, West Virginia’s Access to Justice Commission, West Virginia’s Domestic Violence Database and West Virginia’s Business Court.
Benjamin earned his bachelor’s and law degrees from Ohio State University. He has practiced in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, the West Virginia Supreme Court and the Kentucky Supreme Court.
Among his recent honors, he is a 2017 recipient of the Public Defender Services Award for Outstanding Scholarship in Criminal Law, Chairman of West Virginia Access to Justice Commission in 2017 and recipient of the Distinguished Mountaineer Award in 2016.
While he declined to speak about the issues that have faced the state Supreme Court for the past year or so, Benjamin did say he’s impressed with how the current court is handling things.
“I think the court has some really good people on it as well as working for it,” he said. “I think the justices are working very hard and seem to be working very well together. As they move the court forward, the collegiality is so important.
“It’s evident that the court is moving forward as a unit, and that’s a very good thing to see. They’re headed to Morgantown soon (to hear cases at the West Virginia University College of Law). That’s good for the court, but it’s exciting for the students at WVU and the people in the Morgantown area.
“They’re getting out more, they’re building a very good reputation for the court. And that’s a wonderful thing as they move the judiciary forward.”