Kelsey named to high court

Published 10:40 pm Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Suffolk native to take seat on Supreme Court of Virginia

The newest member of the Supreme Court of Virginia will bring to the job a certain sensibility developed through long years of formative experiences right here in Suffolk.



Judge D. Arthur Kelsey, a Suffolk native who still lives on the same Hobson farm that his father once owned, was unanimously elected to the Supreme Court of Virginia in votes by both houses of the General Assembly on Tuesday.

Kelsey, a 1978 graduate of Nansemond-Suffolk Academy, considered the significance of his appointment during a phone call to his Suffolk home.

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Upon being asked to take his first judicial seat — as a Fifth District circuit court judge — in 2000, Kelsey said, “it took 10 days of deep prayer and thought” before he finally decided to accept the post.

As an attorney for a Norfolk law firm that didn’t do a lot of legal work in Suffolk, he said, he was worried about the perception people might have of him just dropping into the middle of the legal system in Western Tidewater.

What he experienced, though, was a great surprise and an even better education.

“The Suffolk (legal) culture is a unique and commendable culture,” he said. “I see the couple of years I was there as among the most important of my formative years on the bench.”

Kelsey’s rise to the highest court in the commonwealth has been quick and decisive.

A graduate of Old Dominion University with a degree in political science, he received his Juris Doctor from the Marshal Wythe School of Law at the College of William and Mary.

He began his career as a law clerk to U.S. District Judge John MacKenzie, serving there for two years, and then he worked as a partner at Hunton & Williams in Norfolk.

But it was his appointment to the bench in 2000 that really sent his career into overdrive.

After just two years serving the Fifth Judicial District — which includes Suffolk, Isle of Wight, Southampton and Franklin — Kelsey was appointed in 2002 by then Gov. Mark Warner to serve on the Virginia Court of Appeals. His term on that court would have expired in 2019.

In fact, this is the third time Kelsey has been considered for one of the seven seats on the Supreme Court of Virginia. In 2008, he was passed over for the seat ultimately taken by LeRoy Francis Millettee Jr., and in 2011, he was among 10 people considered for the seat ultimately filled by William Cleveland Mims.

He was originally the only candidate for the seat being vacated Feb. 1 by retiring Chief Justice Cynthia Kinser. However, the Virginia Senate delayed his election while it sought to interview other candidates for the Supreme Court and for the Court of Appeals.

On Tuesday, the Republican leadership in the Senate and the House proceeded with a plan they’d set to pursue a joint resolution that would result in the appointment of a slate of judges from the Supreme Court all the way down to Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court judges in a variety of districts.

Suffolk Delegate Chris Jones (R-76), who has been Kelsey’s patron in the House of Delegates, said he had worked closely with Sen. Tommy Norment (R-3) to complete the process.

“I’m so excited for the commonwealth and for him that he has this opportunity,” Jones said. “We’re very blessed that he will be moving up to the Supreme Court. He’s always distinguished himself at every level.”

Kelsey’s connection to the legal profession is almost in his DNA. His grandfather was a federal bankruptcy judge, and his father, uncle, sister and half-brother either are or were all lawyers.

He and his wife, Jane, have three children: Jeffrey, 24, a lieutenant in the Air Force; Mark, 21, a student at Cedarville University in Ohio; and Jenna, 17, a student at Norfolk Christian School.

Kelsey said he will continue to work from his chambers in Suffolk.