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Armstrong to seek federal judgeship

Thursday, March 6, 2014

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin staff writer

Martinsville attorney and former state lawmaker Ward Armstrong is seeking a federal judgeship.

Armstrong confirmed Wednesday that he has submitted a letter of intent to U.S. Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, as well as the Virginia State Bar, to seek a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia.

That seat now is held by Judge Samuel Wilson, who is retiring effective Aug. 1, according to media reports.

Wilson’s successor will be selected by President Barack Obama.

A Democrat from Collinsville, Armstrong spent 20 years in the House of Delegates. He first was elected in 1991, and he lost a re-election bid to Del. Charles Poindexter, R-Glade Hill, in 2011.

Armstrong, 57, served as House minority leader from 2007 until his last term expired in 2012.

He said that although he has no plans to seek another elected office, either state or federal, he remains interested in serving the public.

“Serving as a judge is a very high calling,” said Armstrong. “I felt this might be an appropriate avenue for me” to continue being in public service.

Ten other lawyers have applied for the judgeship, including Julia Dudley, the western district court’s clerk. The applicants also include two judges.

Armstrong said he thinks not having been a judge will not hurt his chances of being appointed to the federal bench. He noted that Judge Jackson Kiser, who has served the federal court since 1981, had no prior experience as a judge. Kiser had a private law practice in Martinsville before he was appointed to the bench.

However, Armstrong said he thinks his long stint as a delegate will help his chances of receiving the appointment.

“For 20 years, I wrote the law,” he said, adding that Virginia’s federal courts typically apply state law to the cases they hear.

Armstrong is the only applicant from Southside. Most are from the Roanoke area.

Kiser’s appointment was the last time someone from Southside was appointed to a federal judgeship, Armstrong said. He added that he thinks the Western District should have judges from all parts of the district.

Kaine and Warner, both Democrats and former Virginia governors, asked the Virginia State Bar to evaluate judgeship candidates.

Judicial hopefuls recently submitted to the bar their résumés and responses to a seven-page questionnaire.

Along with basic information, such as the law schools they attended and the degrees they earned, the questionnaire asked applicants about matters such as the types of legal work they have done; courts in which they have practiced; percentages of their litigation in the past five years that have been criminal, civil and administrative and before juries; whether they have been sued by a client; whether they have been employed in a field other than law; and whether they have been arrested or held public office before.

“My strong points” in being considered for the judgeship, Armstrong said, “... are that as an attorney, I’ve had such a varied practice,” having tried cases in trial, state and appellate courts.

Applicants will be interviewed by the state bar’s judicial candidate evaluation committee on March 26 in Richmond, said bar spokesman Asha Holloman.

The committee will send its evaluations to the senators, who will make a recommendation for an appointment to Obama, she said.

Ultimately, “it’s up to the president” to fill the judgeship, Holloman said.

Armstrong said he has no indication as to when Obama will announce an appointment.

“It will be a lengthy process” continuing until at least the fall or winter, he speculated.

If he is appointed to replace Wilson, Armstrong will have to give up his law practice. Until then, it will be business as usual, he said, mentioning that his daughter, Courtney, joined him in the practice about a year ago.

He plans to continue living in Collinsville if he becomes a judge, he said.

Although the Western District court is based in Roanoke, Armstrong said he hopes he would be assigned to the federal courthouse in Danville.

There has been talk about the possibility of that courthouse closing. If he were to be appointed and assigned there, Armstrong said he hopes that would discourage federal officials from closing it.


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