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Good Guy: Judge Denny Dohnal

The Federal Bar Association threw a party last night, ostensibly honoring all the federal judges who work in Richmond. But it turned out to be a final farewell to U.S. Magistrate Judge Dennis W. Dohnal, who is retiring from the bench next week.

Dohnal is wrapping up 12 years on the job and will become a mediator with The McCammon Group.

U.S. District Judge James Spencer saluted Dohnal for his work and his efficiency. The judges in the Eastern District take their reputation as the “rocket docket” seriously and want to keep the #1 ranking as the fastest trial court to move cases from filing to resolution.

He thanked Dohnal for his hard work, all done with grace and a sense of good humor, long one of Dohnal’s distinctive traits.

Spencer said the Richmond federal judges passed the hat and collected enough money to give Dohnal a healthy gift card to a marine shop so he can buy something for his boat.

The judge also said the group wanted to buy Dohnal a case of his favorite wine as a going-away present.

Spencer went to a tony wine shop and asked the clerk if they carried the particular brand. The clerk was “offended,” he said.

Where can I find that, Spencer asked.

“Food Lion?” the clerk offered.

Spencer (who judiciously didn’t name the wine) said they bought Dohnal three bottles of his favorite and completed the case with a few others that were a little more “aspirational.”

Given his moment, Dohnal cracked that he often wondered what it would be like to attend his own funeral; with all the nice comments, it might have seemed that way.

FBA President Rick Witthoefft noted that Dohnal’s work at a variety of legal causes was tireless. He chaired a Virginia State Bar group that spent several years in the late 1990s working through changes to the ethics code that became the Rules of Professional Conduct in 2000.

Dohnal’s other good-guy works have been chronicled for 20 years or more in this newspaper. He served on numerous panels. He spearheaded an effort to raise court-appointed pay in Virginia. He was tapped as one of Virginia Lawyers Weekly’s “Leaders in the Law” in 2010. The other members of the Class of ’10 voted him as “Leader of the Year.”

What’s next? He and his wife Alicia are taking a trip to Hawaii (it’s been 42 years since his last visit). On Feb. 13, he reports to McCammon for mediation training.

Part of that training includes a session on mediation ethics. But that should be a crib course.

The author of the course materials: One Dennis W. Dohnal.

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