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M. Blane Michael


Federal Judge M. Blane Michael (February 17, 1943-March 25, 2011) was born in Charleston, South Carolina. He grew up in Grant County, graduating from West Virginia University in 1965 and New York University School of Law in 1968. He worked at the Wall Street law firm Sullivan & Cromwell from 1968 to 1971. He served as assistant U.S. attorney, Southern District of New York, from 1971 to 1972.

Michael returned to West Virginia in 1972 to care for his ailing father. He was appointed special U.S. assistant attorney, Northern District of West Virginia, in 1972. He operated a solo law practice in Petersburg from 1973 to 1975, then became a law clerk to Judge Robert Maxwell in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia in 1975–76.

After his father’s death, Michael moved to Charleston and served as special counsel to Governor Jay Rockefeller from 1977 to 1980. Remaining active in Democratic politics, Michael ran political campaigns for Rockefeller and U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd. He joined the Charleston law firm Jackson & Kelly in 1981 and was a partner in the firm until 1993.

On October 1, 1993, Michael was confirmed as a judge for the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond. He replaced James Sprouse of Williamson on the federal court, which is the only level of appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court. When Michael was nominated by President Bill Clinton for the lifetime judicial appointment in 1993, he was among the first nominees by a Democratic president in more than a decade. He was one of eight West Virginians to have served on the Fourth Circuit up to that point and was recognized as a liberal on the generally conservative court.

Michael maintained an office in the Robert C. Byrd U.S. Courthouse in Charleston, traveling to Richmond for court sessions several times a year. States included in the Fourth District are Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, and South Carolina. He wrote the 2004 opinion in East Tennessee Natural Gas Co. v. Sage, an important case related to eminent domain.

Following his death in 2011, President Barack Obama appointed Stephanie Thacker as his replacement on the Fourth Circuit; she is a Huntington native who grew up in Hamlin. After her confirmation by the U.S. Senate, she assumed office on April 17, 2012.

Written by Judie Smith