M. Blane Michael, who grew up on a Grant County farm and became a federal judge, died Friday after a long illness. He was 68.
Michael was involved in West Virginia Democratic politics before President Bill Clinton appointed him to the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in 1993. The Richmond, Va.-based 4th Circuit includes West Virginia.
He worked as special counsel to Jay Rockefeller when Rockefeller was governor, and managed campaigns for Rockefeller and the late U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd.
Michael graduated from West Virginia University -- where he was student body president -- in 1965 with a degree in political science, and from New York University's law school in 1968.
"No one in my family of farmers had ever been a lawyer, and as a young boy I thought that being a trial lawyer would be the most exciting job imaginable," he said in an interview with an NYU alumni publication several years ago.
After law school, Michael worked at a private law firm in New York City. In 1971, he joined the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Southern District of New York.
He returned to West Virginia the following year and set up a private practice in Petersburg. In 1977, he became Rockefeller's special counsel.
Rockefeller called Michael his "dearest friend and confidant."
"Unvarnished in his honesty, uncanny in his humor and unequaled in his humility, Blane was a formidable presence on the federal bench, with a moral and intellectual compass set hard for justice," Rockefeller said in a statement. "He was a brilliant judge who never took for granted the power and the responsibility of deciding the cases that impacted people's lives or righted serious wrongs."
In 1980, Michael became a partner in the firm now known as Jackson Kelly. He managed Rockefeller's 1980 gubernatorial re-election campaign, and then his 1984 and 1990 campaigns for the U.S. Senate. He also managed Byrd's Senate campaigns in 1982 and 1988.
Michael worked full-time in his law practice while managing the Senate campaigns, doing the political work on his lunch breaks, in the evenings and on weekends, according to the interview with NYU, in which he also said he enjoyed Charles Dickens novels and baseball.
In a 1993 interview with the Charleston Gazette, Michael described growing up with chicken and sheep on his family's farm near Petersburg, saying he never had a "grand scheme" to become a judge.
"I suppose that when I worked in the U. S. attorney's office in New York, and I argued appeals in the 2nd Circuit, I thought about it," he said in the interview. "I just didn't think it would ever be possible."
Michael treated everyone fairly, said Chief U.S. District Judge Joseph R. Goodwin, a longtime friend.