By Callie Hietala
Henry County’s General District Court Judge James McGarry was appointed by the Virginia General Assembly to serve in the Circuit Court.
He begins in the new capacity on May 1.
Patrick County Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Vipperman was tapped to take McGarry’s spot on the General District bench.
“I’m honored to be appointed to serve on the circuit court bench,” McGarry said. “I look forward to the challenges that will come with it.”
Before he was appointed to the general district bench three years ago, McGarry said he practiced law for 26 years, attracted to the profession because he liked the idea of having a job that allowed him to help people while challenging him intellectually.
He said he appeared before Williams “many, many times” as a lawyer and knows he has “huge shoes to fill in stepping into his new role.”
Williams “has been a great judge for 30 years or more,” McGarry said. “His knowledge of the law, his knowledge of people, and his ability to run a courtroom are far beyond my experience level, that’s for sure. He was very respected. All the lawyers hold him in high regard, so it’s a big job for me to follow.”
“He’s the perfect judge to succeed Judge Williams, without a doubt,” said Jim Haskins, of the firm Young, Haskins, Gregory, Mann & Wall. McGarry was a partner at the firm, arriving there after graduating law school at Washington and Lee University.
Haskins said McGarry “turned into an outstanding trial lawyer … one of the best trial lawyers in this part of the state, without a doubt.”
He also is an outstanding person, Haskins said.
“He’s smart, he understands his clients,” Haskins said. “He’s unique. I’ve told him before, ‘you were a great member of our firm, you were an outstanding trial lawyer, but in my opinion, you were born to be a judge.’”
It was at Young, Haskins, Gregory, Mann & Wall that Martinsville City Attorney Eric Monday first met McGarry. Monday said the two worked together for several years, and McGarry’s wife was his son’s preschool teacher.
McGarry was “definitely one of the best attorneys in our region when in private practice,” Monday said. Once appointed to the General District bench, Monday said McGarry was “a patient and compassionate judge with a commitment to giving everyone a fair hearing and an honest outcome. There’s no one better suited to be on our circuit bench,” he added.
Henry County Attorney George Lyle said he has known McGarry for more than 25 years as a lawyer, a judge, and as a regular attendee of Martinsville Mustangs baseball games (Lyle said McGarry and his wife regularly host players at their home for the summers.)
“Judge McGarry is a thoughtful, patient, and practical jurist,” Lyle said. “I recently had a minor case before him involving a small claims court matter. Even though it was clear the government entity would prevail, and the citizen’s case would be dismissed, he gave the citizen plaintiff ample time to speak their mind, and explained the Court’s decision and reasoning in an understandable way, and offered common sense advice how to avoid similar future problems. In short, he gave the citizen their day in court, and even though they lost, they left feeling treated fairly. There is a lot to be said for that.”
McGarry also has a good sense of humor, Lyle said. He said he was involved with some of the planning for McGarry’s investiture (the ceremony in which the judge receives their robe, usually purchased and presented by the local bar association) when he was appointed to the General District Court. Lyle jokingly asked McGarry if he had a color preference for his robe. McGarry, who Lyle said is a big Louisiana State University fan, immediately replied, “purple and gold, of course,” eliciting laughs throughout the room.