LOGAN — Longtime Logan County Circuit Judge Eric O’Briant is retiring from his position, effective May 31.
A 1970 graduate of Logan High School and a 1978 graduate of the West Virginia University College of Law, O’Briant has served as a circuit judge in the Seventh Judicial Court of West Virginia since 1987, when he was appointed by then-Gov. Arch A. Moore Jr. to fill an unexpired term. He has been re-elected to the job each time it has come up.
After 35 years on the bench, O’Briant has announced his retirement.
Late Friday morning, the circuit courtroom on the third floor of the Logan County Courthouse was filled with friends, family and colleagues for a retirement party. Following some remarks by O’Briant and a prayer, County Circuit Clerk Mark McGrew shared some statistics from O’Briant’s career.
McGrew said that since 1991, more than 20,000 cases were heard by O’Briant — more than 2,600 felonies, more than 3,600 civil cases, 5,000 mental hygiene petitions, 2,000 juvenile delinquencies and more than 600 adoptions.
Outreach manager Michael Browning presented a statement from U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) commending O’Briant on his 35 years of service as a circuit judge, as well as his prior private legal career.
“Judge O’Briant has served the people of Logan County with professionalism, fairmindedness and a great respect from the day he was elected,” the statement read. “While he is retiring and everyone is sure to miss his strong leadership, Judge O’Briant’s unwavering dedication will leave a lasting legacy with the countless lives he has touched. I congratulate him for his remarkable years of service, and I am honored to wish good health and much happiness to Judge O’Briant, his wife, Diana, and their family in the days and years ahead.”
Logan County Prosecuting Attorney David Wandling said he was shocked when he heard about O’Briant’s plan to retire.
“It caught me completely off guard,” Wandling said, “but then, I was on my way home and I got to thinking … when he was appointed in 1987, I was 7 years old. My father (Don) was the prosecuting attorney. So, I figure if you’ve served long enough to have a father and a son who have appeared before you as your prosecutor, you’ve probably done enough!”
Wandling described O’Briant as a predictable judge who was always fair and knowledgeable.
“When you appeared before Judge O’Briant, you knew you were going to get a ruling which was based in the law,” Wandling said. “You knew you were going to get a judge who understood the ins and outs of procedure. You knew you were going to be treated fairly, even when, so often as I do, you stand up here and you say something stupid. He is judicial without being unapproachable. He’s fair to those of us who have appeared before him over the last four decades — me for the past 16 years — and we’re going to miss him.”
Attorney Steven Wolfe, who serves as president of the Logan County Bar Association, presented O’Briant with an official portrait that will hang in the circuit courtroom with portraits of all previous judges.
On behalf of his office and its 13 employees, Logan County Chief Probation Officer Kevin Runyon presented O’Briant with a large custom-made framed poster that lists his career achievements.
McGrew, on behalf of himself and the staff of the Circuit Clerk’s Office, presented O’Briant with a plaque thanking him for his 35 years of service and a frame containing every oath of office he had taken since 1987.
O’Briant’s sister, Sarah George, told a story of how their mother felt about him being appointed judge and how the Republican Executive Committee at the time came to recommend him for appointment. George said O’Briant had only ever been challenged for office once — the first election he had to run for after being appointed.
“So, I think it’s safe to say that he has been not only a judge for 35 years, but he hasn’t had to be a politician,” George said.
“Oh, I wouldn’t say that!” O’Briant responded to a room full of laughter.
Lila Chase Picklesimer, O’Briant’s 7-year-old granddaughter, also had a few words to say.
“Poppy was a good judge,” Picklesimer said. “Every day, I would come to his house, and he would be on a judge meeting, and I love him.”
Lois Nelson, O’Briant’s administrative secretary, thanked him on behalf of herself and his staff.
“We just want to say we thank you and appreciate you,” Nelson said. “You and I, we’ve been through a lot of different things. Even though the years have been short, we’ve came through the COVID pandemic, and we’ve had a lot of sadness, but we’ve had a lot of good, and I just want to say thank you for being the best boss ever.”
During Monday’s meeting of the Logan County Commission, Wandling said five applicants have applied for O’Briant’s seat and are being interviewed Wednesday. A recommendation will be presented to Gov. Jim Justice, who will make the final appointment. He said he expects an eligible individual to take the bench sometime in July.
In the meantime, Judge Joshua Butcher is handling all indictments and other cases.