By Rachel Stone
Though Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert “Bucky” Joyce is retiring at the end of the year, he says he is “absolutely not” interested in the judgeship position that will also be open later this year.
“There’s a couple things on the bucket list and maybe even some other work-type pursuits,” he said. “Put a piece of straw in my mouth and see where the current goes for a little while.”
With Rockbridge Circuit Judge Michael Irvine also retiring at the end of 2015, the judge’s seat is open for a new appointment by the state legislature. But Joyce said he hopes to do non-law-related work after his retirement.
Joyce, who was first elected Commonwealth’s Attorney in 2004, said he doesn’t have any regrets as he prepares to leave office. He said he has always tried to follow tradition and administer justice with a measure of compassion.
“I haven’t measured success in big cases or big convictions,” Joyce said. “It’s just trying to do what made sense and what seemed to be right day by day.”
Others in the criminal justice system agree that Joyce has been a successful commonwealth’s attorney.
“Bucky is an absolutely unquestionably honest man,” said Attorney David Natkin. “I’ve never known him in any way to try to go back on his word or treated people unfairly.”
Don Ellis, another attorney in Lexington, said Joyce has always been fair and professional. He said he believes Joyce truly cares about the citizens of Rockbridge County.
Joyce has worked in the commonwealth’s attorney’s office for almost 30 years. But he said he hadn’t always planned to be a prosecutor. The only thing he knew going through law school at Washington and Lee was that he didn’t want to be involved in big city courts, he said.
“I have enjoyed it. It’s been my niche, you know, in law. … What I will miss the most is the people … the people along the way. I’ll just miss that contact.”
Joyce said that the personnel can, at times, be the toughest part of the job.
“The biggest challenge is … personnel and just some issues that have come up over the years,” he said. Not that these problems were constant, “but over the years in a number of different instances, there have been some personnel problems.”
Opportunity for change
Joyce’s retirement brings an opportunity for change. Natkin spoke to a larger issue that has recently gained bipartisan concern around the United States — that too many people are being incarcerated.
“I hope that the commonwealth’s attorney’s office will be more creative in trying to figure out how to go forward,” he said.
Joyce, 65, said that he hopes his younger successor – whoever it is – will be able to incorporate more technology into the office routine.
The race to succeed him is between Chris Billias (R) and Josh Elrod (I). Election day is Tuesday, Nov. 3.
Billias, currently the chief deputy under Joyce, has said he’d like to follow Joyce’s office policies.
“I’ve been a sponge,” said Billias at Washington and Lee’s debate on Oct. 7. “I wanted to learn how to do this job appropriately and properly … so I did as much as I could to absorb as much as I could [before Joyce retired]. … I’m going to take what Bucky has taught me. I’m going to follow what Bucky has done traditionally in our office, but I’m also going to seek other answers.”
Joyce said he hopes Billias is his successor.
“If Chris is my successor … then things will continue pretty much smoothly without any uh without any learning curve,” Joyce said. “If Chris is not my successor then there probably will be things that I would need to do to help Mr. Elrod.”
Four years ago, Elrod failed to unseat Joyce for commonwealth’s attorney. Elrod said that, if elected this time around, change would not be overnight. But he stressed that when organizations work together, this community has the most success.
“It’s not to say we don’t do a good job now, but there’s always progress to be made,” Elrod said after the debate. “I’m excited about that. I’m hopeful for the opportunity.”