The Hon. Judge James McGarry, formerly of the Henry County General District Court, was sworn in May 13 as the new Circuit Court judge of the 21st Judicial District, serving the City of Martinsville, Henry and Patrick counties.
“You are respected by every judge sitting here, by everyone in this courtroom,” said retired Circuit Court Judge Martin Clark during the emotional ceremony. “You are admired. It sounds a little corny to say that you are beloved, but it’s absolutely remarkable how happy people are that Jimmy is going to be on the Circuit Court bench.”
Clark said he spent some time trying to decide just why everyone seemed so happy at McGarry’s appointment. The most obvious reason, he said, was McGarry’s résumé. “This is a guy who has done and won and prevailed on big civil cases, big criminal cases. He knows this system from alpha to omega. He’s smart, he’s fair, he’s empathetic. He is everything that you would want in a jurist.
“But I think, more than that, most of us recognize that Jimmy will be sort of generational. Jimmy will be sort of transformative for all of us, for this bar, and for the bench … what a wonderful amalgam of skill, experience, and talents he will bring to the table,” Clark said.
McGarry was appointed to his new role by the General Assembly following the retirement of Judge David Williams, who presided over the circuit for more than 30 years.
“No one could be more pleased than I that you’re taking my gig,” Williams told McGarry before administering the oath of office to the incoming judge. “You’re going to do well, and I’m so happy for you.”
Placing his left hand on the family Bible, which was held by his brother Mike, McGarry raised his right hand and solemnly swore to support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Virginia.
The Constitution, McGarry said in his remarks, serves as a guide for practitioners of the law.
“The preamble to the Constitution includes the purposes of the Constitution,” McGarry said to the packed courtroom. “One of them is ‘to secure the blessings of liberty.’ All of the laws in the country flow down from that Constitution that begins with that statement, that we’re here to secure the blessings of liberty … courts are where people come to ensure their blessings of liberty are being upheld. The courts allow citizens to resolve their disputes here in a civil and proper and fair manner.”
The courts, he said, are important to the community because, in a courtroom, “everybody is equal. You walk into court on equal footing with everybody else and you have the chance to have your day in court. The commonwealth’s attorney is no better than the defendant when they walk into court. The rich people have no more power than the poor people. The corporations are no greater than the individuals. The color of your skin doesn’t matter … it’s the person who sits up here on the bench that is charged with the responsibility of making sure that happens … if the person on the bench is not making sure that everybody is getting fair treatment, then your community is not governed by the rule of law.
“I am honored to be trusted with that duty. To me, it’s essential that the judge is one who is fair, impartial, knowledgeable of the law … and that that judge executes those duties to the benefit of the community. I’m honored to be entrusted with this obligation,” McGarry said. “My promise is that every time I put on the robe, I will strive to do everything I can to live up to that expectation.”
A native of Louisiana, McGarry and his wife, Donna, moved to Virginia to attend law school. He credited Donna with caring for their three young children while he studied during his time at Washington and Lee University. After graduation, McGarry joined the firm of Young, Haskins, Gregory, Mann & Wall in Martinsville.
McGarry’s daughter, Lauren, now Martinsville’s assistant public defender, served as the master of ceremonies for the proceedings. Though his sons were not at the ceremony, McGarry thanked all three of his children. Raising them, he said, helped him perfect his judicial voice. “I am proud of all of them,” he said.
McGarry also thanked Dels. Wren Williams (who attended the ceremony), Danny Marshall and Les Adams, as well as State Sen. Bill Stanley for their support of his appointment.
“While the legislature was wise in appointing me, they were even wiser in realizing that, right before you’re going to appoint McGarry to the circuit court bench, we need to expand the court of appeals and give everybody the right to appeal everything,” McGarry joked. “I know there’s a connection there.”
The judge also acknowledged his clerks and his fellow judges as well as his predecessor, Judge Williams. “I’ve got big shoes to fill. I really do,” he said.
While McGarry’s mother, who is in poor health, was unable to attend the ceremony, his father, Rod McGarry, presented a gavel to his son. “Many of you refer to him as ‘your honor,’ my honor is having him as my son,” he said.
Rod McGarry explained the gavel belong to his father, also named James McGarry, who served as a county attorney in Kentucky in addition to having a private practice. Rod McGarry said he often went to his father’s office where he would see the gavel, though what he used it for was uncertain “because he was not a judge,” he said, eliciting laughter from the audience.
“I want to pass it on to you, Jimmy,” he said, his voice choked with emotion and tears filling his eyes. “I think your grandfather would be happy to know that you have it.”
“Thank you, Dad,” McGarry said. “I’m honored to use this gavel on the bench.”
McGarry’s new appointment left a vacancy on the Henry County General District Court bench, which was filled by Patrick County Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Brinegar-Vipperman.