Lawyers like debate, and they don’t necessarily lose their taste for disputation when they go on the bench.
Judge Robert J. Humphreys, of the Virginia Court of Appeals, relishes the intellectual give-and-take on his court. But he misses one of the judges who used to keep him on his toes, according to remarks he made at the Old Dominion Bar Association’s Judicial Luncheon in Virginia Beach on May 22.
Formerly Virginia Beach’s top prosecutor, Humphreys said “When I first went on the bench, I thought [former Court of Appeals Judge] Jim Benton was the ‘Great Satan,’” for reversing my convictions, Humphreys said. But he and Benton became “great friends,” he said.
“I disagreed with him on the law about 50 percent of the time. But Jim Benton is an intellectual giant, and he forced me to think through my opinions. You have to have a check on your thinking processes,” Humphreys said.
Now third in seniority on the intermediate appellate court, the self-effacing Humphreys said, “I like to think I hold down the mediocre seat.”
He also described to the bar group recent efforts to organize a “Judicial Wellness Initiative,” to offer services to judges similar to those offered to attorneys by Lawyers Helping Lawyers.
Humphreys worked on the idea with former Supreme Court Justice Barbara M. Keenan. Such a program could share office space and some staff with Lawyers Helping Lawyers, Humphreys said, so long as there was a “Chinese wall” between services to lawyers and services to judges.
But things have changed since that first flush of enthusiasm launched the idea for the Wellness Initiative. Keenan has moved to the federal bench and Chief Justice Leroy Hassell Sr., a supporter of the idea, has announced he will not seek a third term as chief. Then there’s the money thing.
“A memorandum of agreement” between the programs is in place, Humphreys said, but no money is available.
Still, the absence of a formal program will not deter judges from extending a helping hand to their colleagues.
“The culture of the Virginia judiciary is, we are not shy about answering the call if one of us calls out for help. That’s true, if it’s a professional issue or a personal issue,” Humphreys said.
By Deborah Elkins