Eric Douglas Published

Kanawha Circuit Judge Joanna Tabit Dies After Undisclosed Illness

Woman in judge's robes looking into the camera
Judge Joanna Tabit has passed away after an undisclosed illness.
Courtesy of Kanawha County Circuit Court

Circuit Court Judge Joanna Tabit passed away Sept. 29, 2023, after an undisclosed illness. She was appointed to the Kanawha County Circuit Court in 2014, replacing retired Judge Paul Zakaib and was then elected to a full term in 2016. 

A statement from the Kanawha County Commission reads, “Judge Tabit was an excellent member of her community. She was committed to public service. Her experience, integrity and character spoke for itself. She was a great leader and friend to many. She will be greatly missed.”

Tabit served as a mentor for countless young lawyers and professionals throughout her career. She was a member of several professional legal groups including the West Virginia State Bar Board of Governors and the Young Lawyers Section of the state bar. 

She was a board member of the Kanawha County Public Defender’s Office, the co-chair for the Campaign for Legal Aid, chairperson of the Access to Justice Foundation and District 8 Character Committee of the West Virginia Board of Law Examiners. She was an officer of the Kanawha County Bar Association. 

She also served on the board of directors for several nonprofit organizations including the YWCA, Kanawha Pastoral Counseling Center and Daymark, Inc. 

The Kanawha County Commission will lower the state flag to half staff immediately, and black drapes will hang at the Kanawha County Judicial Building.  

Charleston Mayor Amy Goodwin said, “I am deeply saddened by the passing of my friend, Judge Joanna Tabit. Judge Tabit lit up any room with her presence. Her positive spirit was infectious. And her love of the law, this community, her many friends and — more than anything — her beloved family knew no bounds. I have ordered city flags lowered to half staff in honor of Judge Tabit, who personified public service.” 

Tabit ran for a seat on the state Supreme Court of Appeals and lost, but was highly regarded by the members of the high court. 

“Judge Joanna Tabit was a beloved West Virginian and member of our judiciary family,” Chief Justice Beth Walker said. “I always admired her commitment to her work, warm sense of humor, and generous spirit. She mentored so many younger lawyers — including me — and our hearts are heavy today. Judge Tabit and her family are in our prayers.”

Justice John Hutchison said, “I am greatly saddened by the news of the passing of Judge Tabit. I have known and worked with Judge Tabit for 30 years. I know her to have been one of the best trial attorneys West Virginia has ever seen and I also know her as one of the finest judges that West Virginia has ever had. My sympathies clearly go to her very close family. My sympathies also to her colleagues.”

Justice Haley Bunn said, “I’m devastated by the loss of Joanna. She was a wonderful colleague on the bench, former colleague in private practice, and friend. My thoughts are with her family and the entire West Virginia legal community as we deal with this unexpected loss.”  

“The Kanawha County circuit judges, magistrates, family court judges and their staffs, we all share the same sentiment – utter heartbreak,” Chief Thirteenth Judicial Circuit Judge Tera Salango said.

A Charleston native, Tabit earned her bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Marshall University in 1983 and her law degree from West Virginia University College of Law in 1986.

She began her legal career in 1986 as a personal law clerk to former Supreme Court Justice Thomas E. McHugh. Following her clerkship, she served as an assistant and then as deputy attorney general of the Appellate Division in the Office of the Attorney General from 1989 to 1992 under the administrations of attorneys general Roger Tompkins and Mario Palumbo. 

In 1992, Tabit joined the law firm of Steptoe & Johnson PLLC, where she was a member attorney until October 2014, when she was appointed to the Kanawha County bench by Governor Earl Ray Tomblin. She was elected to the bench in 2016.

Judge Tabit was recently part of an episode of Us & Them. You can hear it on our website