By Caroline Boras
The Virginia General Assembly appointed a new presiding judge for the Rockbridge County Circuit Court last week. Judge Anita Filson, presiding judge of the Lexington/Rockbridge Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court, will take over as presiding judge of the Circuit Court starting July 1.
“I’m a little overwhelmed…surprised but grateful,” Filson said. “The good thing is I have some time.”
[pullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]“Judge Filson has shown great concern for our community and individual litigants during her time on the bench.” — Kent Gibson[/pullquote]
Filson was the first female judge appointed to the district, where she’s served for 15 years in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court. Now she is the first woman to be appointed as presiding judge in this Circuit Court.
“It’s an honor” she said.
The local bar association president is thrilled with the appointment.
“Members of the bar association felt that the appointment of a local candidate was crucial to the efficient administration of justice in Rockbridge County as well as the cities of Lexington and Buena Vista, and we are pleased that the General Assembly agreed,” Bar Association President Kent Gibson said in an email.
“Judge Filson has shown great concern for our community and individual litigants during her time on the bench…we look forward to her investiture and the continuation of her thoughtful consideration of the matters brought before her,” he said.
In Virginia, the General Assembly appoints judges. Legislators interviewed three candidates — Filson, Botetourt County Commonwealth’s Attorney Joel Branscom; and Lexington General District Court Judge Gordon Saunders — before appointing Filson last Wednesday.
The General Assembly appointed Corry Smith, the assistant commonwealth’s attorney for Amherst County, to fill the gap left by Filson in the Juvenile and Domestic Court.
The presiding judge position opened in January, when Michael Irvine retired. This led to months of scheduling substitute judges to hear cases in the Rockbridge Circuit Court.
Clerk of the Circuit Court Bruce Patterson said the courthouse had retired judges from Roanoke, Virginia Beach, Rocky Mount, Winchester and Norfolk preside over cases while waiting for the appointment. The court didn’t know when an appointment would happen, only that it was guaranteed one by the time the General Assembly adjourned March 12.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Chris Billias said he is looking forward to having consistency at the courthouse again.
“It’s interesting because judges do things differently,” he said. He explained that the judges that he’s been working with sometimes have different philosophies and approaches to sentencing or making deals.
“It makes it difficult,” he said.
Those difficulties will end when Filson takes over in July. Billias said it’s nice to be working with someone local and that he’s hopeful that Filson will be supportive of his plans for a drug docket, which would help combat the volume of drug crimes present in Rockbridge County.
Filson said she has to study to prepare for her new position. “I’ve already started reading my bar book,” she said, holding up what looked like a small textbook.
Filson attended Mary Baldwin College in Staunton for her undergraduate degree. In 1982, she graduated from Washington and Lee’s School of Law. After graduating, she practiced law for 15 years in a general practice. She worked on juvenile cases, as well as criminal and civil, until she was appointed to the Juvenile and Domestic Court.
“I’m looking forward to the different types of cases,” she said. “It will be interesting to work with juries,” she said, which does not happen in Juvenile and Domestic Court.
Filson is sad to be leaving, but is “ready for a different kind of challenge” in the Circuit Court.