The jury was still out, if you will, on Friday about how some of the area’s four newly elected judges will celebrate their ascension.
Kimberly Belongia, Joan Ziglar and Marcus Brinks said they hadn’t really celebrated yet, and Jimmy McGarry said he celebrated “in a dignified manner befitting a judge.”
All four learned officially late Thursday when the Senate approved three resolutions passed earlier by the House, completing a tense couple of weeks of maneuvering through the legal and political maze to the bench in the 21st Judicial District.
Brinks was elevated to a seat on the Circuit Court, and Belongia was chosen to serve on Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court. Ziglar replaced Brinks, and McGarry filled a new, budget-delayed seat that he had been screened to fill a year ago.
All the judges chosen offered thanks to Sen. Bill Stanley (R-Franklin County), Del. Danny Marshall (R-Danville), Del. Charles Poindexter (R-Franklin County) and Del. Les Adams (R-Chatham), the delegation whose districts include the 21st Judicial District. Those four did the interviews, recommendations and nominations in the legislature
But that process had become tumultuous when one attorney originally considered likely to be chosen, Martinsville City Attorney Eric Monday, pulled out after the bar associations in Henry and Patrick counties met and voted against his candidacy.
That opened the door for Ziglar and another Martinsville attorney, Kelli A. Krumenacker, but Ziglar ultimately was chosen. And the celebrations could begin.
“I toasted with my wife [Donna]. We celebrated at the house,” said McGarry, an attorney from Martinsville.
“Friends have been congratulating me,” he said. “I’m humbled by all the support. I’m honored to be chosen to serve as a judge and look forward to doing the best job I can. I certainly appreciate all the support people have given me leading up to this. Personally, it’s an opportunity to serve a greater area of our community. I’ve always been happy to be a lawyer and help people along the way.”
McGarry, who will turn 55 in a couple of weeks, grew up in Baton Rouge, La., and moved to Virginia to attend law school at Washington and Lee University. He moved to Martinsville after obtaining a law degree in 1993 and has been practicing with the law firm now known as Young, Haskins, Mann, Gregory, McGarry & Wall, where he is a partner.
“I’ve worked here 25-plus years,” McGarry said. “My practice has always been a lot of civil litigation, with a pretty heavy dose of criminal defense work.”
He said he has done everything civil disputes to traffic tickets to murder and has practiced extensively in all the courts in the district and argued before the Virginia Court of Appeals and the Virginia Supreme Court.
Belongia, a Martinsville lawyer, said she had not celebrated her election, either, and is concentrating on finishing out the process of representing her current clients.
“My immediate family and my husband and children were very happy,” she said. “Maybe we’ll celebrate this weekend.
“I’ve had a lot of well wishes from a lot of folks. I really appreciate it. I’m very excited. I’m honored to serve the citizens of the 21st Circuit. I’m looking forward to getting started.”
“One thing I bring is I’m from this area. I’m a Henry County native. I’ve been practicing over 20 years.”
She has focused primarily on domestic relations cases. She also has done criminal law and personal-injury cases. She has served as substitute judge for more than 14 years and has presided over various types of cases in both juvenile and domestic relations court and general district court.
She earned a Juris Doctor degree from Widener University School of Law in Wilmington, Del., in 1995. Belongia, 49, and husband, Sto, have two children and reside in Collinsville. Being a parent has helped her empathize with other parents and understand the struggles of family life, she said.
Ziglar, a longtime prosecutor, said she hadn’t celebrated either. “I was ill yesterday [Thursday].
“My phone has not stopped ringing. I got the last text at 1:30 this morning [Friday]. Before I could get up at 6:30 [a.m.], I started getting more texts and phone calls. It’s overwhelming. The support is amazing,” Ziglar said.
“A lot of African-Americans have called to say they are excited the bench is being integrated. I’ve got a lot of calls from local bar members who have been very supportive.
“I’m excited. I’m thrilled. I’m grateful, I’m humbled and most of all blessed to be trusted with this position.”
For now, Ziglar said, she is focusing on some cases as senior assistant commonwealth’s attorney for Pittsylvania County.
“Celebrations will come,” she said, probably dinner out with family members.
Ziglar, 58, of Martinsville wrote this in her application for judge: “I grew up as one of 15 children on a tobacco farm in Henry County, where I learned the value of having a good work ethic and obtaining a good education.”
She said her mother (Polly Anna Ziglar Amos) gave birth to 12 children, one of whom died in infancy. “She took in four of my cousins. That made 15. My mother reared us all alone after father left,” she said.
“Because there were so many of us, with so many different personalities, all different perspectives,” Ziglar said, that helped her learn how to get along and how to compromise. “You can’t always have what you want. Fighting is not always the best answer.”
She said she believes some of those lessons she learned growing up will help her as judge, as will her diverse work experience in criminal justice.
Before she went to law school, she was a probation and parole officer from 1987-89. She earned a Juris Doctorate degree from the Marshall-Wythe School of Law at the College of William & Mary in 1992. She worked in private practice, as a public defender and was a special counsel to the attorney general in the Division of Child Support Enforcement from 1996 to 1998.
Ziglar, who is married, was Martinsville commonwealth’s attorney from 1998 until 2013, senior assistant commonwealth’s attorney for Danville from August 2014 through 2017 and has been in her current position in Pittsylvania County since September 2017.
Brinks said Friday he hadn’t celebrated either. He had been waiting to get confirmation of the General Assembly vote.
“I didn’t want to count my chickens before they hatch,” he said and added he probably would celebrate with “a quiet dinner, some good friends.”
Brinks, who lives in Patrick County with his wife, Sarah, has served as General District Court judge since July 1, 2016. Born and raised in Canton, Ohio he attended Washington & Lee University, where he received a J.D. law degree. After nine years on active duty with the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps, he entered private practice and also served as Patrick County’s chief deputy commonwealth’s attorney.
Brinks said he has big shoes to fill” in succeeding retiring Circuit Court Judge Martin F. Clark Jr.
He said he views the Circuit Court judgeship as an “exciting challenge, a great way to finish a career.” He said he will do his best to be impartial and use his legal background and experience.
“I’m still trying to absorb it. I’m very happy to get the position.”