By Rachel Dove
WILLIAMSON - “Justice. Not politics.”
That’s the camapign promise of Teresa McCune, Mingo County’s longtime chief public defender, who is now running for circuit judge.
“My No. 1 priority is taking politics off the bench,” McCune said. “Circuit judge is an elected office, but it shouldn’t be a political office. It’s not about Republicans and Democrats, or Team Anybody. A judge shouldn’t be involved in running county politics. Her job is to fairly decide the cases that come before the court. It’s calling balls and strikes. “
McCune will also focus on saving taxpayer money by making the court more efficient, and improving public trust by creating programs to help citizens understand how the courts work.
The local attorney is a lifelong resident of West Virginia who grew up in Kanawha County. Her father, Earl, worked at chemical plants and in the coal industry. Her father passed away just a few days before McCune filed for judge. “It’s bittersweet,” McCune says. “He would have been so proud. He always encouraged me to step up to the plate and meet important challenges.”
McCune first came to Mingo County in 1977 to work in flood recovery. “In that time of disaster and despair, I fell in love with this place, and more importantly, the resiliency and warmth of the people here. I made Mingo County my home, a place to put down roots and raise my family,” she remembers. Her son, Ryan, graduated from Williamson High School and went on to Harvard University. He is now a lawyer in Charleston.
McCune sees a comparison between the rebuilding that took place after the ’77 flood, and the daunting task of restoring confidence in Mingo’s courts after so many recent scandals.
“These have been unbelievably difficult months,” she says, “but I love this place more than ever. Just like we rebuilt after the flood, I know we can come together again to give Mingo County a fresh start.”
As a candidate, McCune emphasizes her experience, reputation for integrity, and record of community service. She has been a lawyer for more than three decades, practicing civil, criminal, and family law. In 1990, she founded Mingo County’s first public defender office.
“As chief public defender, I’ve had to learn how to be a manager,” she says. “We have more full-time attorneys than any office in the county and hundreds of active cases.”
McCune feels that other parts of her background have been just as important as her legal career. “I have been a social worker, a waitress, a college professor, a mentor and a mom,” she says. “One of the most important qualities that a judge can have is a diversity of experiences.”
More than any accolade she has received for her work, however, McCune is most proud of her reputation for honesty and integrity. In a recent column, media personality Hoppy Kerchival called her “squeaky clean.”
“In 33 years as a lawyer, I’ve been threatened more than a few times,” she says. “But I’ve never let that stop me from doing the right thing.” McCune has also signed the Secretary of State’s voluntary Code of Fair Campaign Practices and has challenged the other candidates to do the same. The code focuses on running an open, honest and positive campaign. She believes this is what Mingo County voters want and need in this election.
When it comes to service and dedication to Mingo County, McCune says there is an important difference between her and most politicians: I’m not asking people to believe any promises about how I will serve the community. I’m asking them to remember how I always have.”
In 2008, McCune was named “Lawyer Citizen of the Year” by the West Virginia State Bar. She has also received the Governor’s Service Award and the Jenco Foundation’s Service to Youth Award. She has been active in her church’s community outreach programs, and serves on the Christian Help of Mingo County board of directors. She founded “On Track for College,” a program that helps local students apply to college and earn scholarships, and each year, with help from friends, she throws an “Off to College Shower” for local girls headed away to school for the first time.
“My parents raised me to believe that service to others is an important part of my Christian journey,” she said.
McCune has never run for public office, and admits that the experience can be overwhelming for a novice. “But the best part is hearing from friends and neighbors who believe in me, and want to help me make Mingo County a better place. That’s the most meaningful endorsement I could ever get.”