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Northern virginia black attorneys association

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  • February 18, 2022 4:47 PM | Rex Flynn (Administrator)

    I was asked to share about my motivation to become a judge.  I’ll start with what may sound cliché, but if someone told me 10 years ago that I would be a circuit court judge, I would have laughed them out of the room.

    I was the first in my family to graduate college and the first to attend law school.  I went to law school with a plan of never being in a courtroom because I wanted to become a sports agent.  After a successful track career and my general affinity for sports, I just knew that was the path for me.  I found out very quickly looking for internships after my first year – that there were not any firms that handled sports and entertainment law in or near the Richmond area.  I instead worked as a server at a restaurant to cover tuition and other expenses.  During my second year in law school, a professor asked me to play the role of a witness in a mock trial for the local Inn of Courts meeting.    During that meeting, I met attorney Murray Janus.  Luckily that day, Mr. Janus had just reviewed my internship application and offered me an interview the next week.  My internship with his firm the summer after my second year was my first exposure to criminal and civil litigation in state and federal court.  I immediately was drawn to being in a courtroom. 

    During my internship years and first year of practice in the Richmond area, I regularly saw Black judges on the bench.  At the time Judges Cheek, Hairston, and Jamison were on Richmond General District Court, Judge Margaret Spencer in Richmond Circuit Court, and her husband Judge James Spencer in federal court, to name a few.  But even then, I had no desire to become a judge. 

    In 2007, I relocated to Northern Virginia to work for a domestic relations firm.  I fully expected to see the same level of diversity on the bench in Northern Virginia that I saw in the Richmond area.  I was very shocked to see that across heavily populated and diverse Northern Virginia area, there were only a handful of Black judges on the bench.   After relocating, one of the first events I attended was the investiture of Judge Nolan Dawkins to the Alexandria Circuit Court.  Shortly thereafter, I had the opportunity to hear Judge Gerald Bruce Lee speak to a group of students about his background and path to the bench.  I think this was the first time the thought ever crossed my mind that someday I could have my own investiture and someday share with a group of students how a young black boy “from the hood” could ascend to the bench.  It was a quick thought and certainly didn’t not become a goal at the time. 

    I opened my own firm in 2010 and my practice took me all over the Commonwealth and into Washington, D.C., trying primarily domestic relations and criminal cases.  In those travels, I had the opportunity to appear before a lot of different judges.  I appeared before some judges that were great at their job and it was readily apparent that they took the bench prepared, listened carefully to the evidence and argument, and based their ruling on the facts and law at issue.  More often than I can count, I appeared before judges that did not take the bench with that same level of preparation and appropriate judicial temperament.  I would be at a loss for words in post court conferences with my client or their family why it seemed that the judge was in a rush, angry or had prejudged the case.   This experience never sat well with me and at times personally brought me to tears over how my client or I were treated in the courtroom.  This frustration with the administration of justice made me want to do something about it.  I started volunteering to serve on judicial selection screening panels with the local bar associations. 

    As my practice grew, my wife at the time and other members of the bar began to encourage me to submit my name for one of the upcoming judicial openings.  It was not until receiving the support and encouragement of those around me, that those thoughts of one day taking the bench became a real goal in my mind. 

    I decided to submit my name for the opening on Arlington Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court after Judge Wiggins announced her retirement.  I eventually built up the courage to meet with a member of the local delegation about what I needed to do to improve my chances.  I was quickly convinced in that meeting to seek an opening on the Fairfax General District Court and applied for a judgeship for the first time in 2015.  I spent hours and hours preparing for judicial screening interviews, brushing up on civil law and procedure, and seeking out support from members of the bar and community for my candidacy.  Ultimately, I was not selected and frankly unprepared for the sense of rejection and public failure that comes along with an unsuccessful judicial candidacy.  Despite not being selected, I was encouraged by a member of the delegation to apply to become a substitute judge. 

    After licking my wounds, I submitted my application and was fortunate to be selected by the judges of the circuit court to serve as a substitute judge.  My experience as a substitute judge confirmed my personal belief that I could serve as a full-time judge and that I was best suited for the circuit bench based on my life and professional experience.  It was that belief that I could do the job, coupled with my continuing frustration with the administration of justice that motivated me through two other successful judicial candidacies, the last of which I swore that I was never subjecting myself to the judicial screening process ever again.  With the encouragement of my support system, I changed my mind and applied for the opening created by the retirement of Judge Jan Brodie.  I doubled down on my preparation efforts and tried to address everything that had been previously cited as a weakness during my prior attempts.  I was selected by the Fairfax delegation in December of 2018 to fill the vacancy on the Fairfax County Circuit bench.

    I am always mindful of what motivated me to seek this position and do my best to take the bench each day prepared, to listen attentively to the evidence and law presented, and deliver my ruling in a way that demonstrates to all involved that they have been fairly heard.  No one on this earth is perfect and I cannot profess to be the exception to this rule.  However, it is not lost on me that in a profession where only 5% of lawyers are Black, the percentage is drastically lower for the number of Black judges.  The desire to do the job the right way and a sense that whenever I am performing my duties, there is someone watching me the same way I watched Judges Lee, Alston, Dawkins, and Newman.  My hope is that the work that I do in this position creates a spark that will motivate them to diversify the legal profession and the bench.  Which I firmly believe will benefit the bar, bench, and our community.  


     

    Hon. Dontaè L. Bugg is originally from Newport News, Virginia.  He is a Circuit Court Judge in Fairfax County Circuit Court in Virginia's 19th Judicial District.  He attended University of Maryland where he obtained his Bachelors degree, and University of Richmond for his law degree.

  • January 21, 2022 1:41 PM | Rex Flynn (Administrator)

    January 21, 2022

    My parents and six siblings were all born in Jamaica, West Indies, but I was born and raised in the Crown Heights and Flatbush sections of Brooklyn, New York. Our neighborhood was culturally diverse. Large numbers of the residents were either immigrants from various countries in the Caribbean or African Americans with southern roots. Most people in my neighborhood looked like me. Their accents were their only distinguishing feature.

    Being from a large family meant that my village was massive. Celebrations and events included not only my immediate family but aunts, uncles, cousins and “framily” (family friends who were so close we considered them family). It also meant that any missteps were disappointing not only to my parents but to the entire village because they always found out. When I succeeded, everyone succeeded. While they may not have had an extensive formal education, they encouraged me to get good grades, serve my community, and treat people the way I wanted to be treated.

    While Brooklyn itself was culturally diverse during this time, the neighborhoods were not. West Indians lived predominantly in Flatbush and Crown Heights; the Jewish community lived together in their neighborhood; the Italian community lived together in their neighborhood; and so on. The result was segregated neighborhoods.

    When I was to begin the first grade, my parents were notified that my local school was overcrowded and that I would be bussed to another school. In essence, I became a part of the school system’s attempt at school desegregation. I boarded a bus, traveled each morning out of my neighborhood, passed my “zoned” school, and was schooled in a predominantly white neighborhood

    During those five years of elementary school, I was the only, or one of two, Black students in my class. In middle school, more students were bussed in from my neighborhood and others. During these three years, at least two other Black students were now with me in any
    given class.

    These formative years during the 1970’s and early 1980’s, especially during middle school, introduced me to racism, bigotry and hate. I was called horrible racist names daily and told to “go home” or “get out of the neighborhood.” Things were thrown at our busses. We were attacked and chased out of the neighborhood on many occasions. As horrible as those experiences were, they taught me to persevere and be resilient and steadfast. They taught me the importance of community. I also learned to run fast!

    During these formative years, I learned about injustice, advocacy, taking a stand, and the power of having a village.

    At the tender age of 6 or 7, I knew I wanted to become an attorney. Specifically, I wanted to become a criminal defense attorney. My brother had gotten in trouble and ultimately incarcerated. I was committed to defending people like my brother who I believed to have been railroaded, mistreated and wrongfully convicted.

    I lived in two completely different worlds and learned that the outcome of any given situation was dependent on which world I was navigating. In school, I was taught that I could trust police officers. In my neighborhood, I was taught to run when I saw the police – not because I was guilty but because I could not trust them. In my neighborhood, I saw people mistreated by the police. I saw friends incarcerated and others killed. In school, my white classmates had more freedom and a different outlook on their life and future. They had different dreams and aspirations.

    For high school, I applied to and was accepted into a specialized school in Manhattan, Murry Bergtraum. I learned so much at this school. Not only was the student body diverse, so were the faculty and staff. For the first time, I had teachers who looked like me. Teachers who pushed and encouraged me. Educators who saw my potential and stretched me. Teachers like Mr. Cummings realized that my quick wit and smart mouth could benefit the moot court team and encouraged me to join. (Actually, he promised to go back and change my grade to an “A” if I agreed to join the team. He still owes me an A!)

    Mr. Mott introduced me to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at the New York Public Library and inspired me to be a voracious reader. He not only required me to read the state-mandated curriculum but introduced me to Black authors such as Alice Walker, Margaret Walker and even Iceberg Slim and Donald Goines.

    Mr. Sinclair (no relation) tortured me with “Tess of the D’urbervilles” but also took me to see Broadway plays. Our principal, Ms. Christian, repeatedly told us that “Bergtraum girls were the best in the world!” The list goes on and continued into college, law school and my professional career.

    I share my experiences to highlight the fact that our words and actions matter. What we do or say can have a lasting impact on those people with whom we come in contact. As judges, we have the power to change lives. Whether it is mentoring young people and encouraging them to dream big or how we treat a litigant who comes before us. The legal profession is enriched by actively making efforts to include people from different cultures, races and genders, bringing their life experiences and backgrounds to the table.

    These differences shape how we think. When we all interact with each other, it expands our perspective. Diversity matters. Equity matters. Inclusion matters. A seat at the table matters.

    It mattered that I saw positive role models who looked like me.  It mattered that when people were spewing hate, others encouraged and empowered me.  It matters that people see the benefit of me being at the table.

    Thurgood Marshall said, “None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. We got here because somebody – a parent, a teacher, an Ivy League crony or a few nuns – bent down and helped us pick up our boots.”

    Therefore, I want to publicly thank the teachers, mentors and members of my village who pushed me, encouraged me, caught me, and pulled me alongside them; the ancestors who toiled, fought and sacrificed, for me to have a better life.  I especially have to thank those who told me that I would never amount to anything or tried to fill me with negativity and doubt.  You, and my faith in God, gave me the drive and confidence to keep striving to reach higher heights.  Without all of these factors, I would not be a lawyer, much less a judge, today.

    My challenge to you is to step outside of your comfort zone. Get to know someone who does not look like you. Attend an event that you would not usually attend. Read a book that you would not have otherwise read. Be a mentor. Encourage someone. Expand your territory!

    Most importantly, as you climb, pull someone else along because chances are, someone did that for you.

    Hon. Lorrie Sinclair-Taylor
    Judge
    Loudoun County General District Court

       In April 2020, Lorrie Sinclair Taylor became the first African American Judge in the history of Loudoun County, Virginia when the General Assembly approved her appointment as a General District Court Judge



  • January 13, 2021 6:41 PM | Rex Flynn (Administrator)

    February 1, 2021

    As a young girl growing up in the inner city in New Jersey, I grew up with both of my parents who were gainfully employed in “good jobs” (good pay, benefits, unions, etc.).  By no means were we rich but we were not poor either, I guess you would consider us lower middle class.  

    I did not see any examples of lawyers and especially none of color.  As such, it was not my childhood fantasy to become a lawyer as this was not my reality.  I cannot remember what I “wanted to be” as a little girl but a lawyer was not it.

    The first time I got a glimpse of the justice system was in high school when I saw a classmate chased down by the police, assaulted and arrested.  I remember thinking that this was not right but I had limited knowledge as to what could be done about it.  Later in high school I joined the debate team and flourished doing what came natural to me.  I will say that being part of the debate team was my “introduction” to the possibility of becoming a lawyer.  

    Fast forward to my decision to attend law school.  Again, never did I imagine becoming a judge. This was not even a possibility or desire in my mind.  I just wanted to obtain my law degree, practice law and save the world as a lawyer.  It wasn’t until I was a 2nd year law student and then later an attorney, did I ever see a judge of color.  And it was many years later before I would consider the possibility of being a judge myself.  I will note that there was only a handful of judges of color in the Northern Virginia area when I began practicing in 2001!

    My experience is a prime example of why it is important for our youth to see positive, successful, and accessible people in their surroundings.  If you have never seen a lawyer or judge or doctor or teacher or President or Vice President who looks like you, it is natural to never consider that you could become one of these people.  We are all shaped by our surroundings (sometimes for the good, other times for the bad).  

    Being only the second judge of color to ever sit on the General District Court bench in Prince William County is truly an honor.  I do not take for granted that just a few short years ago (less than 5) there had NEVER been a judge of color on this bench.  As an attorney and now as a judge, I remain passionate about exposing minority youth to the possibility of being something they never would have imagined (lawyer, judge, clerk, police officer, court interpreter, etc.).  

    Hon. Turkessa Bynum Rollins
    Judge
    Prince William County General District Court

    ________________________________________________________________

       Judge Rollins  sits as a General District Court Judge in Prince William County, Virginia.  Prior to that she was a Partner at Fullerton & Knowles where she practiced in civil litigation.  She attended law school at George Mason University and completed her undergraduate studies at Trenton State College in her home state of New Jersey.

northern virginia black attorneys association

www.novabaa.org

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