Circuit Court Judge Joseph Pomponio will complete another chapter in his illustrious life when he retires from the bench on January 31. The former paratrooper, pilot and lawyer will continue to reside in Greenbrier County, but winter over in his home state of Florida.
After graduating high school, Pomponio enlisted in the Army and served between 1961-1964 in the 82nd Airborne Division and 10th Special Forces Group. Following his military service, he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from Florida Atlantic University, and a Juris Doctor degree from Nova Law School. Pomponio completed pilot training and flew passenger jets for Eastern Airlines for 22 years. He was accepted to the Florida Bar in 1977 and the West Virginia Bar in 1988.
In 1991, Pomponio accepted a job in West Virginia with the Bureau for Child Support Enforcement. The family moved from Florida to Lewisburg, where Pomponio worked as a child advocate attorney, serving Greenbrier and Pocahontas counties.
“People in West Virginia, Pocahontas County and Greenbrier County accepted me, and I thought that was wonderful,” he said.
In 1994, Governor Gasper Caperton appointed Pomponio as a family law master, where he served until 2002, when the Family Court system was created in West Virginia.
“The family law master system evolved into the Family Court system,” said Pomponio. “Along the way, as things changed, I was appointed as Family Court Judge by Governor Wise, and then Governor Underwood. Then, I ran for election, unopposed, two times.”
Remarking on the judge’s reputation for fairness, Governor Joe Manchin appointed Pomponio as a Circuit Court judge in February 2007, to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Frank E. Jolliffe. Subsequently, Pomponio was elected to an eight-year term in 2008.
Following his appointment to the Circuit Court bench, Pomponio continued to serve as Family Court judge for several months, complicating an already difficult transition.
“I had been a Family Court judge for 13 years,” he said. “So, it took a lot of work and there was a lot of stress involved, and a challenge to learn the other areas of the law that I was responsible for. Specifically, I hadn’t had a criminal jury trial in more than 13 years. There are certain criminal procedures you have to follow and you have to learn. It’s a big area and it’s a big part of my case load – is the criminal areas. I remained as Family Court judge until they appointed David Sanders down there, and that was my biggest challenge – was trying to get a handle on everything.”
The judge is proud to have helped improve the dispensation of justice in the 11th Circuit.
“We have a serious drug problem throughout our society,” he said. “I was able to start the Drug Court and Day Report system in Greenbrier County and Pocahontas County, to address some of those issues. I consider that substance abuse in all areas of our society. Drug Court is a means of dealing with substance abuse. Even though it’s kind of like a drop in the bucket, the people we have in our drug court – hopefully, they complete our Drug Court and they return to be productive members of society. “
“Nobody wants to be a substance abuser. Traditionally, what we’ve done is put them in jail, and so, they may never become a productive member of society. Another problem you have is they are convicted felons. Once you’re a convicted felon, you lose all sorts of rights and you may never be able to be a productive citizen. You can’t hold certain licenses, so it’s very difficult. But I think the Drug Courts are very effective. They seem to be more effective than anything else. It’s really a program of strict supervision and random drug testing.
“Even though our program has been slow to take off in Pocahontas County, it’s been very successful in Greenbrier County. You need all members of law enforcement to be involved in this thing. For whatever reason, our prior prosecutor in Pocahontas County was not very supportive, so we did not have a very successful Drug Court. But now, the number of individuals in our Drug Court has increased and it’s continuing to increase, and I think that serves Pocahontas County. So, I’m happy to be part of that.”
Pomponio’s wife, Betty, is a native of Meadow Bridge. The couple have been married for 34 years and have four children. The judge plans to dedicate more time to family following his retirement.
“I’ve served the citizens of Pocahontas and Greenbrier counties for some 22 years,” he said. “I’m almost 70 years old. I love the job, but I have family considerations, also, and that played a part in my decision. I’ve been very lucky. West Virginia’s been very good to me. It’s been a privilege to have served the citizens of Pocahontas County and Greenbrier County. I consider Pocahontas County a special place. We have some wonderful people up there. I just have enjoyed it. But, at some point in time, you have to make a decision, what you’re going to do.”
Governor Earl Ray Tomblin is expected to appoint an interim replacement for Pomponio after January 31. The appointee will serve until the general election in 2014, when the position will be on the ballot for election.
Pomponio would like to see a judge from Pocahontas County.
“It would be nice to see, at some point in time, somebody from Pocahontas County be appointed as the Circuit Court judge,” he said. “Because, in our circuit, we have two counties. Greenbrier is a large county – so, from the standpoint of elections, it’s difficult, the way the counties are set up, for somebody from Pocahontas County to be elected as judge. Maybe that will change.”
The Pomponios will spend their summers in West Virginia and their winters in Florida.
“I intend to do some senior status work, but this gives me flexibility where I can spend the winter,” he said. “My wife will come back with me in the spring time and we love West Virginia. How can you not love West Virginia? It’s a wonderful place to live.”