KINGWOOD — Preston County has only one circuit judge, and, when one is elected, he tends to keep the office for more than one term.
Last week, voters chose Steve Shaffer, of Tunnelton, to replace retiring Judge Lawrance Miller Jr. Shaffer will fill the remaining six years in Miller’s term.
Shaffer, 63, will be sworn in after the county commission certifies the election results, probably this week.
Law isn’t Shaffer’s first career. After graduation from Tunnelton High School, he worked 23 years in construction and as a coal miner. When he was injured on the job, he attended college, graduating from the WVU College of Law in 2003.
After graduation he worked for then Preston Prosecutor Ron Brown, before opening Estep & Shaffer. He will be closing his private practice.
“I believe that the career change between being an attorney and becoming a judge is probably as great as being a coal miner and becoming an attorney,” Shaffer said.
Shaffer said he is honored to have been elected judge and will expect all those who appear before him to show honesty, integrity and cordiality to others.
“One of the big things I wanted to show the people is that the court system in Preston County can be and will be as our forefathers set forth in the constitution, that it’s a level playing field for all,” Shaffer said.
The judge has authority to hire some employees in circuit and magistrate court. Shaffer said he is still looking at those positions.
Miller was first elected to the bench in 1998 and will continue to be available to fill in at courts as a senior status judge and as adult drug court judge until someone is appointed.
The Preston County Inn was packed with a stream of well wishers at a recent retirement party hosted by his family.
During the reception one of Miller’s former law clerks, Jay Shay, thanked Miller for all he had taught him. He also extended the Preston County Bar’s thanks for Miller’s, “unmatched preparedness, professionalism, fairness and unbiasedness,” and thanked him for his service to Preston County.
Another former clerk, Sam Hess, praised Miller’s compassion, empathy, intellectual curiosity and humility. Miller was, “a judge’s judge,” Hess said.
“I don’t think most of the public … truly grasp the sacrifice you have made over the past 20 years in being the single judge in this circuit. It is a lonely job,” Shay said. “And it’s a hard job, where you have to make nearly impossible decisions on a daily basis. You did this with grace and dignity.”
Among Miller’s accomplishments are creation of the county drug court and improving courthouse security, Shay said. Former secretary Shirley Hartley said, “It’s not a piece of cake. You have no idea what goes on behind the scene.” Attorneys prepare their case, but the judge must be prepared for every scenario, she said.
“I’d like to recognize the citizens of Preston County who supported our alternative sentencing initiatives and who have served an integral role in justice by serving on juries,” Miller said. He thanked the people of Preston County for trusting him with the honor of being circuit court judge and his staff.
“It’s been challenging and exciting, and I can honestly say that I looked forward to going to work each day,” Miller said.