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Bushnell named juvenile and domestic relations judge

Friday, April 5, 2013

By DEBBIE HALL AND BEN R. WILLIAMS - Bulletin Staff Writers

Henry County Commonwealth’s Attorney Bob Bushnell has been chosen as a new local Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court judge, according to Del. Don Merricks, R-Pittsylvania County.

The General Assembly approved the judgeship Wednesday night, Merricks said.

Bushnell will succeed Judge Junius Warren, who retired April 1.

Merricks said local legislators interviewed the candidates for the judgeship before the General Assembly session began in January. The six candidates were Bushnell; Kimberly Belongia, local attorney; Assistant Patrick County Commonwealth's Attorney Marcus Brinks; Patrick County Attorney Alan Black; Assistant Henry County Commonwealth's Attorney Wayne Withers; and Timothy Halpin, an attorney with the Division of Child Support Enforcement.

Janine Jacob, president of the Martinsville-Henry County Bar Association, said Belongia had been the most highly rated of the candidates when the association initially interviewed the candidates, although Bushnell also was rated highly.

Bushnell is “in touch with the citizenry” of the area, Jacob said, and his years of experience make him qualified for the bench.

She added that the legislators’ choice of Bushnell likely would not come as a surprise to the members of the local bar association.

The association’s top choice is “one facet of what the judicial nominating committee and the legislature considers when they’re making that decision,” Jacob said.

“Bob, I thought that was fantastic,” said state Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Glade Hill. According to Stanley, Bushnell and Halpin were the only two applicants certified by the Courts Committee following their interviews.

“Bob gave a really good interview, and for years, he has gone up” to Richmond and advocated for various issues, Stanley said.

“Of two great choices, of two great candidates, Bob was the best. I’ve known Bob for 20 years. I’ve practiced against him. In fact, the first case I ever tried was against him. I’ve never known a man more passionate about the law, more compassionate towards victims. He is one of the best attorneys that Virginia has, and he will make one of our best judges,” Stanley added.

Del. Don Merricks, R-Pittsylvania County, said that Bushnell has “the right temperament” to be a judge.

“I would think that particular judgeship (juvenile and domestic relations) is one of the tougher judgeships there is,” Merricks said, because the judge must weigh in on delicate situations involving children and families.

“You need to be firm when you need to be firm, and you need to show mercy when you need to show mercy,” he said.

Del. Danny Marshall, R-Danville, said the vote was one of the last items legislators addressed near the 1 a.m. end of the session.

“All four of us (local representatives) supported Bob Bushnell to go on the bench for the” juvenile and domestic relations court, Marshall said.

As a nonlawyer, Marshall said he asked other attorneys for their opinions on the candidates for the post.

He also determined whether applicants had the technical expertise to serve as judge and if their temperament might change once appointed. “I’ve heard stories about when people put a robe on, their temperament changes .... I don’t think that will happen with Bob,” Marshall said.

He added there also were many calls supporting Bushnell for the post, not just from Henry County and Martinsville, but all around the state.

Plus, “Bob was known by quite a few members of the General Assembly” and worked diligently to pull together a diverse group of people and craft legislation to toughen laws and penalties governing copper and metal sales to recycling businesses, Marshall said.

The group Bushnell put together “met many times throughout 2012 and really worked on the details of this bill. When the bill got to the General Assembly, it met little resistance, and I think that was because of” Bushnell’s hard work, Marshall said.

Del. Charles Poindexter said there were “several good applicants, and I am thankful to all of them for applying.”

That made selecting only one a “tough call, but several things kind of stood out for me” with Bushnell, including his broad experience in many areas of litigation, the fact that Bushnell also was in private practice for a number of years, and “he has been the Commonwealth’s Attorney for a number of years.”

As a result, he “is well-respected around Virginia,” Poindexter said. Bushnell also “is not an unfamiliar sight in Richmond .... I don’t think he’s viewed as an activist, and we want people to interpret the law, not try to make laws.”

Also, Poindexter said Bushnell’s standing in the community, and the fact that he was “well-recommended by a lot of people in a lot of different fields” was a plus that “bodes well when have a cross section” base of support.

Bushnell learned that he had been chosen at 12:45 a.m. Thursday morning. Since then, the congratulatory messages from friends and co-workers have been “overwhelming,” he said.

“It’s a humbling experience,” he added. “I’ll always be grateful for the confidence (the legislators) have placed in me.”


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