Courtrooms in the Shenandoah Valley are losing 35 years of experience. With the end of 2012, two veteran judges are hanging up their robes. Both of the barristers offer a look at their time on the bench, and a look at what's next.
Circuit Judge Humes Franklin Junior says serving on the bench has marked the pinnacle of his legal career. Having reached his 70th birthday, he has no choice but to retire. He sometimes shares a courthouse with District Judge William Heatwole, who tells us he believes it's time for new blood.
Judge William Heatwole does not face that state mandate but says he too is ready to lay down the gavel. "I'd rather go out on my terms, than on terms less favorable. You find your patience getting a little bit leaner and things like that, so I think it's just time," he stated.
As a judge in two districts, Heatwole has been serving in courtrooms from Waynesboro to Harrisonburg. Franklin serves the 25th Circuit Court which includes Waynesboro, Staunton and several nearby counties. Both men grew up in the Shenandoah Valley and practiced law for decades here so they're sometimes on a first-name basis with defendants.
Franklin said, "I have to continue to say to myself, you took an oath of office to uphold laws and the constitution of the state of Virginia and the United States, and so you press on."
Heatwole stated, "And what I've found out over the years if I treat people with respect, even if I'm putting them in jail and finding them guilty, respect will be returned."
While judges can't talk about specific cases, Heatwole and Franklin both say the ones they least like to hear are domestic ones, involving divorce and child custody.
Franklin stated, "There's a constant worry that if you don't get it right, you're affecting young people's lives."
They also agree that their most rewarding cases are the proactive ones. The two judges had a hand in establishing special court programs for drug and DUI offenders.
Franklin stated, "Of our graduates from drug court, less than 10 percent have ever had another charge of any type, which is right remarkable."
Heatwole said, "It's been very successful and some of the stories are just unbelievable as to what recovery has meant in their life."
Beginning in February, both Heatwole and Franklin will return to the bench part-time as substitute judges. But it's up to the General Assembly and governor to hire their permanent replacements.