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Watson moves up, other judgeships filled / February 18, 2019
The General Assembly has chosen three new judges to fill vacancies in the 10th Judicial Circuit — one in circuit court and three in general district court.

James William “Bill” Watson Jr., 63, who was first appointed to the general district bench in 2009 and presided over cases in Halifax County, was tapped to fill an open Circuit Court judgeship by state lawmakers on Thursday.

Watson fills the circuit judgeship that opened up when Leslie Osborn of Lunenburg retired in December after 18 years on the bench. Osborn presided over circuit court in Mecklenburg and Lunenburg counties and had served as Chief Judge of the 10th Judicial Circuit before his departure. The 10th Circuit encompasses eight counties, from Halifax and Mecklenburg to the south to Cumberland and Buckingham to the north.

Three other candidates were named by the legislature to fill general district judgeships in the 10th Circuit, including Watson’s old seat on the Halifax bench.

The appointees are Jody E.H. Fariss of Prince Edward, an attorney in private practice in Farmville; Calvin Spencer Jr. of Lunenburg, who has managed the Kenbridge office of the South Hill law firm of Harris, Matthews & Crowder; and Darrel Puckett, Commonwealth’s Attorney for Appomattox County.

The openings on general district court were created by the retirements of Judge Charles Warren in Mecklenburg and a second retirement in the northern part of the 10th Circuit. The third appointment was made necessary by Watson’s rise to Circuit Court.

Other candidates for the judgeships included three lawyers in private practice in Halifax County: Michael Freshour, Lisa Francisco and Brendan U. Dunning.

General district judges serve six-year terms, by appointment of the General Assembly. Circuit judges serve eight-year terms.

It will be up to Halifax Circuit Judge Kim White, who recently took over for Osborn as Chief Judge of the 10th, to determine the duties of the judges within the judicial circuit — with decisions pending on where each judge will preside. In recent weeks, Circuit Judge S. Anderson “Andy” Nelson has taken over the Mecklenburg circuit court caseload from Osborn, leaving White to handle the bulk of cases in Halifax.

Meantime, White has placed her name in contention for a possible opening on the Virginia Court of Appeals, one step below the Virginia Supreme Court. A member of the Court of Appeals is a candidate for an open federal judgeship; if a vacancy develops on the appellate court, White has asked to be considered for a promotion.

It would be up to the General Assembly to appoint a permanent successor if White were to ascend to the appeals court.

Watson, the only local candidate to gain an appointment in this go-round of judicial appointments, is a 1977 graduate of Hampden-Sydney College and a 1980 graduate of the College of William & Mary law school. A native of Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, he was admitted to the bar in 1980. Prior to his appointment in 2009, Watson served as the managing partner of the Halifax law firm of Watson & Morrison where he focused his practice on criminal defense health care, family and personal injury law.

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Judge Watson entire career before becoming a Judge in General District Court was as a Defense Attorney only. He was never any type of Prosecutor. Many in Law Enforcement felt he was never totally neutral when presiding over a case. It taught me to think like a defense attorney and it taught me to be even more Thoreau when writing my report. I just have to remember that I did my job and when it comes up in Court they determine the disposition and outcome of the case.

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