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Ceremony marks U.S. district court judge Gina M. Groh's elevation to federal bench

Former Washington County resident is first Eastern Panhandle jurist to be appointed to seat

October 19, 2012|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthew.umstead@herald-mail.com
  • New U.S. district court judge Gina M. Groh is pictured with her family Friday during an investiture ceremony at Shepherd University. From left, her father-in-law, Vincent Groh, her son, Stephen, her husband, Stephen, Gina, and her son, Michael.
By Kevin G. Gilbert, Staff Photographer

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. — Williamsport High School graduate and newly appointed U.S. district court judge Gina M. Groh says she is a small town girl who is living “a uniquely American dream.”

“I didn’t get here on my own through just hard work and ambition,” Groh said at her investiture ceremony Friday in the Frank Arts Center at Shepherd University, where she graduated in 1986.

“I got here through the help and encouragement of a lot of folks and I need to thank them.”

Groh, who now resides in Jefferson County, was nominated for the federal bench in the Northern District of West Virginia by President Obama in May 2011.

Her nomination, recommended by Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., was confirmed by the Senate on March 15. Obama signed her commission March 20, allowing her to preside as the district judge for the Martinsburg, W.Va., division of the Northern District.

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“I have a rewarding job, which I look forward to going to each and every day,” said Groh, who was publicly sworn in Friday by the Northern District’s chief judge, John Preston Bailey.

Groh’s husband, Stephen, and their two sons, Stephen, 13, and Michael, 7, stood at her side on stage in the W.H. Shipley Recital Hall for the ceremony, which was followed by her robing and elevation to the bench.

Among several federal judges to take part in the ceremony, Bailey joked that he was probably happier about Groh’s appointment than anyone other than her family.

After five years of commuting from Wheeling to Martinsburg, a three-hour, 45-minute drive one-way, Bailey said he was “ecstatic” that Groh was appointed to take over the docket in Martinsburg.

Groh, who became the fourth female jurist on the federal bench in West Virginia, was serving as a state trial court judge in the 23rd Judicial Circuit in the Eastern Panhandle when she was nominated by  Obama.

Manchin told Groh in the ceremony that she has “really made me look good” since he appointed her to the state bench in 2006.  At that time, Groh became only the third female to serve as a state circuit court judge.

Groh’s appointment to the federal bench filled the vacancy left by the 2006 death of Judge Craig Broadwater. 

Rockefeller said in remarks that he and Broadwater were very close and that his passing was an “enormous loss,” and then noted Groh’s elevation to the bench was a happy day for the Eastern Panhandle.

Rockefeller said Groh’s fairness as a state judge and talent as a lawyer were among the qualifications upon which he based his recommendation to President Obama that she be nominated. Rockefeller noted Groh became the first jurist from the Eastern Panhandle to be appointed to the seat.

Groh who saluted Manchin and Rockefeller for their guidance and support through the nomination process, also thanked President Obama for “honoring me with this distinguished lifetime opportunity” that was humbling and exhilarating at the same time.

“Absolutely, but not least, absolutely not least, I’d like to thank God for graciously bestowing upon me all the gifts that he has given me,” Groh concluded in her remarks.

Among several speakers to take part in the ceremony, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said Groh’s elevation to the federal bench was a “great day for the Eastern Panhandle.”

Steven D. Canterbury, administrative director of the state court system, lamented Groh’s departure from the state bench after five years, but congratulated Obama for making an “absolute inspired choice.”

Among others to speak at the ceremony, included former U.S. Sen. Carte P. Goodwin, D-W.Va., former Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney Michael D. Thompson, who hired Groh as an assistant prosecutor and 4th Circuit Court of Appeals justices Barbara M. Keenan, who said she is a neighbor of Groh’s and Stephanie D. Thacker, who noted her appointment to that federal bench, was about a month behind Groh’s.

 Joseph R. Goodwin, chief justice for the Southern District of West Virginia, told Groh that she was appointed to “one of the best courts” in the nation before he sparked a roar of laughter by telling a joke about three federal judges who went duck hunting together.

While the supreme court and appellate judge restrained from shooting their ducks for reasons related to their roles in the judicial system, Goodwin said the district judge didn’t hesitate and fired.

When the bird dropped to the ground, the district judge said: “Lord, I hope that was a duck!,” Goodwin quipped.

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