James Mazzone: Judiciary a Team Effort

Photo by Heather Ziegler Set to take on the title of U.S. magistrate, First Judicial Circuit Judge James P. Mazzone is flanked by his clerks, Johnna Hutnick, left, and Janet Cunningham.

WHEELING — Soon to take a seat as a federal magistrate, First Judicial Circuit Judge James P. Mazzone said he believes a team effort makes for a successful career, especially in the judiciary.

Since his days working as a law clerk while seeking a law degree from West Virginia University, Mazzone said he has witnessed how important it is to surround oneself with good people. As a law clerk, he worked in the shadow of some of the most well-respected attorneys who also have gone on to higher courts.

Mazzone worked at Schrader Byrd & Companion in Wheeling when Frederick P. Stamp Jr. also was a member of the firm. Stamp went on to become a U.S. District Court judge.

“When I started in (the City-County Building), I had the privilege of working with some wonderful judges — (Ronald) Wilson, (Arthur) Recht and (Martin) Gaughan, and of course, I worked with Judge Stamp in private practice,” Mazzone said.

Mazzone earned a law degree and a degree in accounting from WVU. While his work initially focused on tax and business law, he moved to general litigation cases.

“I liked getting out and into the courtroom,” he said. “The work was diverse and interesting. It certainly helped when I transitioned onto the bench.”

Mazzone, a Democrat and native of Brooke County, has served since being elected in 2000 the First Judicial Circuit, which includes Brooke; Hancock; and Ohio counties.

He also has been appointed multiple times to serve as a temporary Justice on the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. He is a member of the Supreme Court’s Mass Litigation Panel, is one of five circuit judges to hear West Virginia Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Act cases, serves on and is chairman of several West Virginia Judicial Association Committees and has served two terms as Chief Judge of the First Judicial Circuit.

Mazzone said criminal cases involving children have been the most difficult to hear over the years. He and his wife, Roxanne, have three children: Maria, 21; Jimmy, 19; and Gabrielle, 16.

“Criminal offenses against children are toughest,” he said. “These abuse and neglect cases involving children are closed proceedings, so the public doesn’t always know what’s going on, but we have to hear and see the graphic details. It’s most important that we do, but it’s not easy.”

The continuous abuse of opioid drugs by parents has created turmoil for their children and the court system, he said. Mazzone has presided over many cases in which he has been tasked at making a final ruling on someone’s guilt or innocence. He said in making those decisions, he considers the effect on somebody’s liberty and freedom, but also keeping the community safe.

In his new job, which begins Tuesday, Mazzone will fill the post of retiring U.S. Magistrate Judge James Seibert, who has been on the federal bench since 1985.

“If I turn out to be half as good as Judge Seibert, I’d consider myself a success,” Mazzone said. “This job is not a one-man show. I’ve had a lot of help and support from family, co-workers and others and am humbled to be selected.”

Mazzone said he was planning to work through the holiday weekend and step directly into federal court work this week. Making that transition much easier, he will be joined at his new office by his current clerks, Janet Cunningham and Johnna Hutnick.

Cunningham said she will miss the people she sees daily at the City-County Building but is looking forward to moving “up the street” to the Federal Building a few blocks away.

A party was held Wednesday in Mazzone’s honor at the City-County Building.

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