By: Chelsea Cornwell
Photos by: Josh Triggs
Sometimes the unthinkable happens; in a split second your life can change forever. As adults we are all held responsible and accountable for each and every decision that we make, however, as humans, we all make decisions that turn out to be mistakes. Imagine yourself, at a dinner party; there is wine, beer and cocktails being served along with little bites to eat and good company. Now, after an evening of harmless fun, you grab your car keys (not thinking that the last glass of wine you had, may have been one too many) and start driving home. All of a sudden there are red and blue lights in your rearview mirror and the next thing you know, that harmless night of fun, turned into a roadside DUI. What do you do? You need representation from an attorney that understands and sympathizes with the fact that you aren’t a bad person; you do not deserve to have the rest of your life altered and felonized by one bad decision. That representation comes in the form of West Virginias ONLY exclusive DUI defense law firm as well as 4 time Virginia and West Virginia Super Lawyer recipient, who is a qualified administrator and instructor on NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator) standardized field sobriety testing protocol. That representation is Harley Wagner and he is here to help put the pieces of your life back together.
Harley Wagner is no run of the mill DUI Defense Attorney. He is the author of ‘West Virginia DUI Defense, The Law and Practice’. Wagner also has West Virginia’s only exclusive DUI defense law firm, he is a trained operator of the EC/IR II; which is West Virginia’s breath testing machine. Wagner is on the Board of Directors for the DUI Defense Lawyers Association, a proud faculty member of the National College for DUI Defense and co-founder of WV’s DUI Defense Lawyers Association. With over 1,800 cases under his belt in 41 of West Virginia’s 55 Counties and over 700 hours of training, Wagner has described himself as “…Hungry for more…” as he continues to learn more about the field and also teaches as much as he can, as a national lecturer on DUI Law and Science.
Graduating from Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Lansing, Michigan in 1996, Wagner came home and clerked for Dick Douglas at Bowles and Rice Law Firm in Martinsburg, WV. but knew he always wanted to be a Criminal Defense Attorney. In order to do that, a lot of courtroom experience is required, which he described as, “…Trial by fire, which is the only way to learn and grow…” After sending out multiple resumes to a lot of major metropolitan areas wanting to, “Attack the world,” however, not knowing anyone in those areas, he received a few interviews, but decided to start sending his resume to firms in Charleston and other places locally in West Virginia. Clarksburg, WV had a need for an Assistant State Prosecutor and in 1997 he received a call to go work for them, and from ’97 to the fall of ’99 he was the man for the job. During this period, Wagner earned his stripes going against at that time one of West Virginia’s foremost DUI Defense Attorneys, James A. Matish, Esq., who is now a Circuit Judge for Harrison County, West Virginia.
“This is where my interest in DUI defense was born.” Not wanting to become complacent as an Assistant Prosecutor, he came home to Martinsburg to work with Kevin Mills Criminal Law Firm. Working with Mills closely and quickly becoming a successful firm, in the winter of 2004 it became Mills and Wagner, giving him a place in the light to really shine and was considered by many the largest Criminal Defense Firm in the state of West Virginia. “The DUI aspect of the firm was the largest in the state, because you can track those numbers by the amount of cases through the DMV,” Wagner stated. From about 6 months into working for Mills and Wagner to February of 2010, he handled every single DUI case, truly instilling his love for that area of law.
“If you have ambition, a little talent and things you want to do and accomplish in life, no one sets out to be an Assistant Head Coach for their entire career.” During this period, Wagner really threw himself into attending numerous DUI Law seminars around the country, interacting and learning from many of our nation’s most successful DUI defense attorneys. Having amassed a quite impressive resume’ in DUI defense in his own right, Wagner decided it was time to leave the nest and branch out on his own to open West Virginia’s only exclusive DUI defense law firm. “At the time I only had about $1000 in my savings account and a wife as well as a 5 month old little boy.” So, with the help from friends, colleagues and of course his family, “Leaving to go out on my own, was the scariest and best thing that I ever decided to do in my career.” Wagner proudly explained. So, he strapped on his boots and moved out of his old office and into the new location on Edwin Miller Blvd. in Martinsburg, WV., bringing along with him Heather (His Paralegal) who he describes as the glue that keeps everything together for the firm. With the help of his Mom, he received a small business loan, giving him some room to breathe, so he was able to gather everything he needed to brand himself, acquire an office and all of the things he needed to put together and run his own firm. It didn’t take long for Wagner to acquire a statewide branding, launching him into success that he never imagined possible and, “In two years, I paid off my five year business loan and my first full year of solo practice in 2011, my law firm, that was just myself and my paralegal (Heather) grossed over a million dollars.” After that, he started receiving calls from all over the state to take on cases and in just a couple years, he had appeared in court in 41 of the 55 counties in West Virginia, however, over 50% of his cases are in the Eastern Panhandle.
Fast-forwarding to today, when asked why Wagner loves what he does, he simply stated that, “95% of the people I deal with have never been in trouble with the law before and they are good people who may have had one bad night that still deserve the chance to not have their lives destroyed by a single poor decision.” In the future, Wagner hopes to keep things on an even keel, continuing to be the watchdog for white-collar individuals and helping to reform the lives of those who are impacted by a single bad decision. “I feel very well established, not just here, but around the state and I have a love for giving back so I have been helping new attorneys around the state and try to do for them what was done for me so many years ago.” He hopes to retire in 20 years and have the ability to always give back to not only future lawyers but to also give back to the community.
With as much training as Wagner has as the 4 time Virginia and West Virginia’s Super Lawyer recipient, one would think that his office would be in a major metropolitan area such as Charleston, WV. or even Washington D.C., however, Wagner is right here in Martinsburg, WV. where his roots are. “Martinsburg is home,” Wagner explained; with his beautiful wife Shauna and two handsome sons, William Harley and Wesley Thomas, it was clear speaking with him that he has a grounded and humble character.
Through all of the successes and all the trials and tribulations that he has seen, he is still the kind of man that you will instantly be able to call your friend. He isn’t someone that wants to speak over you or make you feel less than for any decision you have ever made, he has a level of compassion and empathy that I believe is the number one things that have launched him into the position he is in today. There is a quote that resonates in my mind when I think of Wagner and that is, “A successful man who is not humble has not reached complete success”- Marilena Reka. Harley Wagner is beyond a humble man.
There is no one else in the state that has done for DUI law what Harley Wagner has accomplished in his years as a DUI Defense Attorney. Knowing him on a more personal level and having the great opportunity to speak with him about his life, there is also no one out there that would care as much as Wagner cares about ensuring that not only the people that come across his firm realize the gravity of what has happened but he also has a wonderful ability to help reform the lives of those that have had a terrible hiccup in their life.
Hopefully none of you reading this will ever have a DUI encounter, however, if it happens, call Harley Wagner because then you can expect thorough and committed representation for the best outcome in your case.