Thursday, September 22, 2005

From the archives - the swearing-in of Judge Kirksey

Looking for something else on the server this afternoon, I came across the speech that was given on the occasion of the investiture of Judge Larry Kirksey, which reminded me that just last week I went to sort of a cocktail party and someone there told me that he liked that speech, so here is the brunt of it:

"It was Judge Kirksey’s decision that this event would be held here in Bristol, and in this courtroom, and he made the right choice. In this room, you can see the portraits of some of the men who have served as judges of first the corporation court and now the circuit court of the City of Bristol. In 114 years, nine men have served as the Bristol judge, the six you see hanging on the wall, two more for whom we have no portraits, and the last one – Judge Flannagan - who says if anyone wants to know what he looked like, you can come and see him directly. Judge Flannagan he would tell you that the history of Bristol can be told in the history of its judges. Earlier this week I talked about this history with Judge Kirksey, and about the length of these earlier judgeships. Averaging out the job tenure of his predecessors, it appears to me the General Assembly has sentenced him to at least 12 years of hard labor.

Judge Kirksey has lived in Bristol all his life; he was born in Bristol, went to school in Bristol, Tennessee, and worked in his Bristol throughout his career. In 25 years of private law practice, he worked for 20 of those years with the firm of Woodward Miles & Flannagan, then with the Penn Stuart firm, and then in his own firm. He did mostly insurance defense work, and he also did court-appointed criminal defense work. Let me stop here and recollect that when Jim Jones was sworn in as federal court judge Abingdon, Judge Williams pointed out that now Judge Jones would get an introduction to “the dark side” of the docket. Well, Judge Kirksey in his private practice did some work on both kinds of cases, the paying kind and the non-paying kind.

Back when he was a young man, Judge Kirksey was named the Outstanding Young Man of Bristol and made a list of the Ten Outstanding Young Virginians. When he became older and wiser, he was invited to join the mostly old and wise men who are mediators with the McGammon Group, the statewide dispute-resolution firm. He also served on the Disciplinary Board of the Virginia State Bar. The lawyers in the room know that there is no more important and more thankless work than dealing with the discipline of other lawyers.

Judge Kirksey also served a memorable term as president of the Bristol Bar. That year we had a quite well-attended lawyer golf tournament and a bench-bar dinner at the Bristol Country Club, and at the dinner, Judge Kirksey gave an interesting if somewhat rambling speech, which he concluded by saying, “Can’t we all just get along?” I never knew any lawyer who couldn’t get along with Larry Kirksey.

Beyond his life as a lawyer, Judge Kirksey has made a second career of working to make Bristol a better place. Over the years, he has taken on a succession of the kind of public service positions that are really at odds with making a living, the kind of public service work that eats up all your time working to help solve other people’s problems. Judge Kirksey told me that he most enjoyed his time boards of the Bristol Department of Social Services, and the Board of the Children’s Advocacy Center, and the Advisory Board of the Bristol Office on Youth. In 1990, he took the bold step running for City Council, got elected and served 4 years on the council. In 2001, he took the bolder step of running for Commonwealth’s attorney, the position he held until the end of March. I know that his only regret about being Commonwealth’s attorney was that he didn’t get to stay there longer.

On March 10, the General Assembly voted to appoint Larry Kirksey to an eight-year term as judge of the 28th Circuit, beginning April 1, to succeed Judge Flannagan. When I asked Judge Flannagan to comment on his successor, he said: “this is the second time in 22 years that I’ve been able to turn over every one of my files to him.” The lawyers in Bristol are also glad that the files of this Court are being turned over to Larry Kirksey. Thank you all again for coming, and congratulations Judge Kirksey."

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