WISE - Wise County loses a capable prosecutor but gains a judge as well as still another capable prosecutor by the middle of next week, a result of a shuffle on the Virginia's 30th Circuit benches prompted by the impending retirement of Circuit Judge Birg Sergent of Lee County.
Wise County Commonwealth's Attorney Chad Dotson has been chosen by the Virginia General Assembly as the newest general district court judge in the 30th Circuit, to replace General District Court Judge Joseph Carico, who will move into the circuit court judgeship slot being vacated by Sergent.
Chief Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Ron Elkins will assume Wise County's top prosecutorial post to fill the remainder of the final year of Dotson's four-year elected term. Elkins said he will be a candidate for the job in the November elections as the de facto incumbent.
Dotson was elected commonwealth's attorney in 2003. During his tenure heading up Wise County's prosecution office, Dotson engineered an expansion of the office from four prosecutors, including himself, to the current roster of seven prosecutors.
Wise County has one of the busiest court dockets in Virginia, and the busiest in the state based on population. One of Dotson's prosecutorial hallmarks has been a crackdown on illicit drug use and dealing in the county, particularly during the past year, and ratcheting up the heat on those accused of domestic abuse, including violent acts and/or sexual assaults on children.
Dotson said he expects to be sworn in as a general district court judge by the middle of next week. A more formal investiture ceremony will probably be held in conjunction with Carico's in February, he said. Also, because he served as a prosecutor in Wise County, the first several months of Dotson's new role behind the bench will find him primarily in Lee and Scott counties until those cases in the Wise County court docket are adjudicated.
Dotson looks forward to his six-year term as a general district court judge, an achievement he only dreamed of when he envisioned a legal career as a youth growing up on Pole Bridge Road near Wise. Pole Bridge Road can boast two judges now, because Carico grew up about half a mile from Dotson.
A 1992 graduate of J.J. Kelly High School, Dotson earned an undergraduate degree in government at the University of Virginia and graduated from Georgetown University's School of Law in 1999.
"It's what I've aspired to, certainly," he said of being a judge. "It's what a lot of lawyers aspire to. I didn't know what court, or when, if I ever did become fortunate enough to have the honor. I made the decision years ago in high school to be a lawyer. Honestly, I'm humbled and honored to be able to serve the 30th Circuit in this capacity."
The reality of his elevation to the bench has yet to sink in, he said.
"I've used the term â€˜whirlwind.' It's something I've wanted to happen for a long time. But for the phone call yesterday that I would take the bench next week, I've not had time to think about it."
He did have a clue it was possible. Dotson said he interviewed for the position before the joint House and Senate Courts of Justice Committee in Richmond last week.
Dotson said he is leaving the prosecutor's office "in good hands" with Elkins, a prosecutor highly respected by the local legal community.
Shifting gears as a prosecutor to the bench isn't such a big leap as one might imagine, Dotson said, because the best prosecutors strive to apply fairness, wisdom and mercy with justice no matter what.
He pointed to Circuit Judge Tammy McElyea, who served as Lee County commonwealth's attorney several years before being appointed to the bench, as a case in point.
"Defense attorneys around here will tell you that I always try to be fair," he said. "We're not just about trying to pile up as many convictions as possible. I am supremely aware of the concept of reasonable doubt and the responsibility to be thoughtful, wise, just and fair. I won't be a prosecuting judge. Everybody will get a fair hearing in my court."