Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Hatfields and McCoys!

I have to chuckle a bit at this news story out of Williamson, WV. The reason I find it interesting is that I actually lived in Mingo County, WV, and Pike County, KY, for a three month period back in the early 1980s—the stomping grounds of the Hatfield/McCoy clans. I was working as news director at WBTH/WXCC radio at the time, having moved there across country from southern California where I had been working in part-time Christian radio. (Never could get full time, and that's why I left California after being out there for a year.)

I resigned after three months to return to Illinois, finding that I really didn't fit in very well with the isolated Appalachian region. Which is curious, because I can melt right into the Arkansas Ozarks and blend in with no problem whatsoever. 

All that aside to say that I am glad the Hatfields and McCoys put the feud behind them and can turn it not only to a profitable venture, but also something cultural and historical for tourists to learn something. There is quite a history in Mingo County, not all of it good. If you've ever seen the movie "Matewan" with Kevin Tighe in it, it's about a bloody coal mine war that took place in the early part of the 20th. The county's nickname was "Bloody Mingo" for a reason. 

But I also got to know some very, very nice and colorful characters while there. One of my favorite people was Judge Elliot Maynard, who originally was the Mingo County circuit judge, eventually ending up on the West Virginia Supreme Court. When I met him the first time, he immediately disarmed me by telling me to call him "Spike." Criminals didn't like him very much, because he was sort of a "hanging judge." I cannot recall anyone ever getting probation when I was covering courts there. He told me one day that he personally didn't like giving probation except in rare cases. He thought nearly everyone ought to do some time if they ran afoul of the law. Given the history of the region, I can understand why he had that severe outlook. 

Shortly after I left the area to return to Illinois, the former sheriff and some county commissioners got swept up in a federal sting operation aimed at corruption. I wasn't really surprised. They can be glad they ended up in the feds' jurisdiction. Spike no doubt would have sent them all up the river for a long stretch.

Sola's note: I just discovered that Spike himself got caught up in a controversy that resulted in him losing an election. Justice Maynard was accused of conflict of interest in a case that came before the West Virginia Supreme Court, after photos surfaced of him being in the French Riviera with a party to the litigation. Here is another perspective on the story and allegations against the former justice. 

I can understand the concerns over conflict of interest. As one of the articles points out, in a small, rural Southern region, everybody knows everybody else. I can't help but have a hard time thinking Spike would have been party to genuine corruption, but I have to base that only on my brief knowledge of him and watching him in court. This will ultimately have to be left in the hands of those who still live in the region and know all parties involved. For my part, I thought Spike was a nice guy and a good judge, at least in the cases I saw him handle all those many years ago.

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