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Assistant prosecutor named to bench

December 16, 2006|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - Gina Marie Groh, an assistant prosecuting attorney in Jefferson and Berkeley counties since 1998, has been appointed by Gov. Joe Manchin to the new judgeship for the Eastern Panhandle's 23rd Judicial Circuit.

Manchin announced the 42-year-old attorney's appointment Friday in conjunction with filling two vacancies in the 4th and 9th circuits.

"After a very thorough selection process and careful consideration, I am pleased to announce the appointment of three individuals who will be outstanding additions to the quality pool of jurists we're fortunate to have leading West Virginia's legal system," Manchin said in a press release.

A Washington County native and graduate of Williamsport High School, Groh will be only the third female circuit judge in West Virginia. She joins David H. Sanders, Christopher C. Wilkes, Gray Silver III and Thomas W. Steptoe Jr. on the bench in the Eastern Panhandle.

"I'm just thrilled that I got the appointment," Groh said a little more than an hour after receiving a congratulatory telephone call from Manchin at her office in the Jefferson County Judicial Center in Charles Town, W.Va., where she has worked as an assistant prosecuting attorney since 2002. Groh began handling cases for the state in 1998 in Berkeley County.

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"I thank him for his confidence in me," Groh said.

Twenty years after graduating from Shepherd College (now Shepherd University), Groh said the appointment was "humbling" and a "really big break" for her career, which also has included civil litigation. Groh was admitted to the West Virginia State Bar in 1989 after graduating from the West Virginia University College of Law in 1987.

"I'm going to do my best to ensure everybody gets a fair shake," Groh said.

She also hopes to serve as a good role model for young women who share her professional aspirations, noting the other female members of the judiciary in West Virginia, including state Supreme Court of Appeals Chief Justice Robin Davis and U.S. Northern District Chief Judge Irene M. Keeley.

"I think it's hard for women to break into that role," Groh said.

It was not immediately clear where Groh would hold court, but Silver said in August that the Berkeley County Courthouse in Martinsburg was an option since Sanders was relocating to the county's new judicial center at 380 W. South St.

Groh said she will meet with the other four judges next week. They are expected to collectively decide how to apportion the circuit's increasingly heavy caseload, which prompted state lawmakers to pass a bill this year to allow Manchin to make the appointment as early as Aug. 1.

Groh was one of nine attorneys who applied for the judgeship, according to Carte Goodwin, Manchin's general counsel. Groh's husband, Stephen Groh, will remain with the Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney's office, but she will not hear cases he handles.

Groh must run for re-election in 2008 to retain the judgeship, Goodwin confirmed Friday.

"I think she will be a wonderful judge," said Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney Michael Thompson, describing Groh as an excellent, aggressive prosecutor. "I'm proud of her."

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