Saturday, July 2, 2016

Here comes our new judge

June 30 marked the last day of June, and the beginning of the career of Claiborne H. Stokes, Jr. as a District Court Judge. During a ceremonial session of Goochland District Court, Judge Timothy K. Sanner administered the oath of office.


Becki Stokes helps husband, the Hon. Clairborne H. Stokes,Jr. don his judicial robe, presented by Goochland Bar Association President Anthony Paone. LOngtime secretary Carolyn Winn, right, looks one.

Goochland’s venerable courtroom was filled to capacity with family, friends, colleagues, elected officials, judges and Delegate Manoli Loupassi, Chair of the Courts of Justice subcommittee, which participates in appointing judges.

The occasion, as Judge Sanner put it, was both joyous and solemn. “This is a celebration of our democracy and our rule of law. In our system of coequal branches of government, one can transition from one branch to another without the violence that accompanies such transitions in so many other parts of the world.”

Stokes has been Goochland Commonwealth’s Attorney, the county’s prosecutor, since 2004. He came to the county in 1994 as Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney, and succeeded the Hon. Edward K. “Eddie” Carpenter, both as Commonwealth’s Attorney and on the General District Court bench.

Judge Sanner recognized Carpenter, who is retiring after more than three decades of service to Goochland, including his election by the General Assembly to two six year terms as Judge.

“During his tenure, [Eddie Carpenter] established a reputation as a zealous, capable, and fair proponent of not only the Commonwealth’s interest but those of justice as well.” These remarks were followed by a standing ovation.

Carpenter, who has known Stokes for many years, observed that the new judge “is one of the brightest guys I know and he will do a wonderful job.” He cautioned the clerks around the District to secure their goodies against incursions by Stokes.

Tony Paone, President of the Goochland Bar Association, presented the new judge with his official robe, and, in a nod to remarks by Carpenter, a dispenser filled with Navy Blue and Orange M&Ms.

Sitting and retired judges from the 16th Judicial District and other courts welcomed Stokes to the bench with words of wit and wisdom.

One judge rejoiced that now, for the first time in 25 years, the 16th Circuit General District Court has a majority of Wahoo judges, wresting it away from Hampden-Sydney, Carpenter’s alma mater.

Hon. Deborah S. Tinsley, Presiding Judge, Chief Judge of Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, who has known and worked with Stokes for a long time, said that she knew he would make a terrific judge. Worrying that he might have trouble staying in one place for a long time, she presented him with a bottle of Crazy Glue.

Retried Judge Al Talley, who preceded Carpenter in General District Court, opined that Stokes will probably see more citizens than his colleagues on the Circuit Court, who will form their opinion of the judicial system based on comportment of the judge. “I have no doubt you will do a wonderful job.”

Another jurist cautioned: “Remember that there is a huge distinction between doing important work and being an important person; don’t confuse the two. The level of affection and respect that you gain as a judge is to a large measure dictated by how you treat those less fortunate, less capable, and less able than you and will go a long way toward determining what kind of a judge you will be.”

Still another: “At the end of a long day, when your patience has run a little thin, you have to remember that may be the only time a person comes to court. You have to remember that you represent not only that court, but also the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Judge Sanner, who has presided over Stokes’ home courtroom for the last 13 years, reflected on the Circuit’s newest judge.

“I know these things about Claiborne Stokes: he loves his wife and children, he loves the Baltimore Orioles, he loves, with a certain amount of frustration, University of Virginia Cavaliers, and he loves the law. That is rarer than you may think… He knows the law, its delights, and its mysteries…A search for its obscure riddles is, for him, not a chore, but an opportunity. Judge Stokes will know the law, and he will follow it. That said, abstract knowledge is only so useful. Trial judges deal with real people with real life problems they want to share with you. I believe that judges need a burning desire to see that justice is administered fairly. To some degree, that requires an internal framework to achieve resolution based upon a mutual evaluation of the circumstances of the case… In my observations of Judge Stokes for the past 13 years I believe he will deal fairly and respectfully with those who come before him…On more than one occasion I have seen him go out of his way to recognize a mitigating factor for a criminal defendant when arguably, a greater victory could have been obtained for the Commonwealth. If one were to put on blinders, one would not be able to discern if he was addressing the most prominent citizen or a criminal defendant with season tickets to the penitentiary. I know that you will be an outstanding judge.”

Stokes said it was an honor to practice before Judge Sanner. He thanked Carpenter, who he described as “a great boss and a great friend,” for his mentorship as Goochland Commonwealth’s Attorney.

He recognized his staff including former and current deputies Nancy Ogelsby and Mike Caudill respectively. “I believe I have the best office in the county. They did the work, they made it easy. Stokes also took a minute to praise and thank Carolyn Winn, who worked for both he and Carpenter as secretary before her retirement.

Stokes thanked Goochland Sheriff Jim Agnew, and his staff who “...did their work professionally, brought me good cases, and did everything I asked.”

Then Stokes reflected on the contribution his family made to his success. His late father taught him the values of the Greatest Generation His mother received a master’s degree from Uva in the late 1940’s, long before women were allowed. She went on to teach math at Richmond College for 44 years. “I want say thank you for everything she did to make me who I am.” His sister Bruce, a corporate attorney, “is the smart one in the group, I’m the lucky one. She’s taught me a lot of the law.”

Stokes contended that his daughter Lauren was the best campaign manager who made sure no one ever voted against him. Son Trey is a Wahoo true and true. He thanked Becki “for the happiest 16 years of my life and for putting up with me.”

Judge Stokes will be hearing cases in other jurisdictions until those he prosecuted as Commonwealth’s Attorney are resolved.

The general district court is a limited jurisdiction trial court that hears civil cases involving amounts in controversy up to $25,000, and conducts trials for traffic infractions and misdemeanor offenses.

Caudill was sworn in as Goochland Commonwealth’s Attorney by Judge Sanner follow the ceremony. Caudill is expected to run for the office in the November general election.

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