Your honor

Published 7:11 pm Friday, July 22, 2011

Investiture: The Hon. Alfred W. Bates III, left, the newest judge in Suffolk’s General District Court, takes the oath of office from the Hon. Rodham T. Delk Jr., chief judge of the Fifth Judicial Circuit Court. Bates’ wife Pamela stands in between.

The Hon. Alfred W. Bates III took his place on the Suffolk General District Court bench Friday in front of a packed courtroom in the Mills E. Godwin Jr. Courts Building.

Bates took the oath of office to replace the Hon. William R. Savage III, whom the General Assembly tapped for an open bench in Circuit Court.

“I pray for wisdom, honor, humility and strength,” Bates said after taking the oath.

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Bates thanked legislators in attendance and told them he hoped he would be “worthy of the trust you placed in me.”

In the alternately formal and lighthearted ceremony, Bates was sworn in, enrobed and presented with a ceremonial gavel. Local, state and federal court judges from throughout the area attended, as well as a number of Bates’ family and friends and elected and administrative officials from Suffolk and surrounding cities.

Bates is a native of Orlando, Fla., and the oldest of seven children. He graduated from high school in Richmond.

“He instructed me not to give you the year of his graduation,” said the Hon. James A. Moore, chief judge of the General District Court, provoking laughter from the audience.

Bates went on to graduate from Yale University and the Marshall-Wythe School of Law at the College of William and Mary.

In 1979, he began working at Tidewater Legal Aid Services. Ten years later, he took a post in the Portsmouth city attorney’s office, where he served for 22 years until taking the judgeship in Suffolk.

In the Portsmouth office, he handled civil litigation against the city, city officials and employees and numerous departments.

“He’s one heck of a lawyer,” said Timothy Oksman, the city attorney in Portsmouth. Throughout the hundreds of cases Bates handled, Oksman said, he never had a case that ended in a judgment against the city of more than $200,000, even in a city that is generally regarded as plaintiff-friendly, Oksman said.

“He devotes intense scrutiny to every fact in a case,” Oksman said. “That’s critically important. You want a judge who’s going to understand the facts.”

Oksman also said Bates has a well-developed sense of fairness.

“While he can be firm, he’s always low-key, always respectful of other people, always treating everyone with respect,” Oksman said. “Al Bates worked for me for 16 years. He’s one of my heroes.”