Retirement set for Chief judge

Published 12:08 am Saturday, December 5, 2009

COURTLAND — Westbrook J. Parker, chief judge for Virginia’s Fifth Judicial Circuit Court, plans to retire next year.

“He has announced that he is retiring at the end of his term on June 30,” said Mary Kate Felch of the Virginia Division of Legislative Services.

Parker could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

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Parker, 62, a Franklin resident who’s been a judge with the Fifth Circuit since 1986, would have been up for reappointment during the General Assembly’s 2010 session. He was set to be interviewed, along with other incumbent judges whose terms are expiring, on Dec. 17 by the Senate Committee for Courts of Justice and the House Judicial Panel.

“The legislature will consider the vacancy during the 2010 session, probably sometime after the first of February,” Felch said.

Both Del. Bill Barlow, (D-Smithfield), and Sen. Fred Quayle, (R-Suffolk), serve on committees that would’ve interviewed Parker later this month.

“I think Judge Parker has been an excellent judge through the years,” Barlow said. “I’m sorry to see that he is retiring, but I think he certainly deserves a good retirement.”

Quayle said Parker is “well respected” by the lawyers who practice before him and fair to the citizens who appeared before him.

“I’ll be sorry to lose him,” Quayle said. “He’s served the circuit very well.”

Since the General Assembly has a long session this year, it could be April before Parker’s replacement is named.

“The General Assembly will do its best to fill the vacancy, along with the many others,” Felch said.

Franklin attorney James Rainey said the circuit is losing an outstanding jurist.

“I was disappointed and saddened to hear that Judge Parker will be retiring from the Fifth Judicial Circuit bench. He has served our circuit with distinction for over 20 years,” Rainey said. “He will be remembered as an intelligent and compassionate judge who listened attentively to the citizens coming before him. It was a privilege and pleasure to practice before him.”

Parker raised eyebrows last year when he ordered 40 Gloucester County citizens to pay almost $80,000 in legal fees in connection with their petition drive to recall four members of the county’s Board of Supervisors. He ruled that the citizens had abused the legal system and ordered them to pay the supervisors’ legal fees.

The sanctions have been appealed to the Virginia Supreme Court.

The Daily Press in Newport News reported Wednesday that Gloucester residents were organizing to attend the Dec. 17 hearing and oppose Parker’s reappointment.

“The (Daily Press) article strongly suggests that Judge Parker is stepping down in reaction to the supervisor case in Gloucester. Nothing could be further from the truth,” Courtland attorney Richard Railey Jr., who serves as Southampton County attorney, wrote in a letter Thursday. “In my opinion, Judge Parker acted courageously in addressing a politically and emotionally charged situation.

“Although there are many great judges in this Commonwealth, the overwhelming consensus is that Judge Parker is the greatest trial judge of them all. He possesses the rare gift of civility, a desire to do things right, a desire to be fair, compassion and understanding. Of all the people I know, including fellow lawyers, he is the least impressed with himself. If his ego matched his ability, he would be impossible to get along with.”

Quayle said the focus should now be on finding a replacement, which he hopes “will do just as good a job” as Parker.

The Fifth Judicial Circuit includes the cities of Suffolk and Franklin, as well as Southampton and Isle of Wight counties.