Greenbrier Circuit Judge Robert Richardson discusses judicial successes, and having ‘the best job in the world’

By Matthew Young, RealWV

For the last 10 years, Judge Robert Richardson has been a servant of the residents of Greenbrier and Pocahontas Counties. After first being appointed to the circuit court bench in 2014 by Governor Earl Ray Tomblin, Richardson was then elected to a full term two years later. 

“I used to think that being a lawyer was the best job in the world,” Richardson told RealWV on Thursday afternoon, while discussing his campaign for reelection. “I loved practicing law and the intellectual challenges it presents, and I enjoyed helping people solve problems. But 10-years-ago, I discovered that, for me, being a lawyer was the second best job in the world.”

“I really think that I found my calling as a judge,” Richardson added. “And I would like to continue to serve the people of this circuit in that capacity for another eight years.”

When asked about his biggest accomplishments, Richardson pointed to his work in eliminating the backlog of cases that previously existed in the circuit. When Richardson first became judge in 2014, he was greeted by over 600 open cases.

“It took persistent effort over several years to chip away at that backlog and to get those older cases resolved,” Richardson explained. “Now my case load is about 300, and we’re consistently resolving cases at the same rate that new cases are being filed.”

“That didn’t happen by rushing through cases,” Richardson continued. “It happened because of hard work, getting hearings scheduled and taking the time needed to listen to the evidence and legal arguments presented.” He also noted that, because he came into office with 27 years of experience as a lawyer handling a broad range of matters, he was better able to understand the issues involved in the wide variety of cases coming before the circuit court.

Richardson further added he takes great pride in the “little victories” which have been earned during his time on the bench. 

“We are dealing with a huge drug issue in our community,” Richardson said. “So when someone graduates from our Drug Court program, or when parents in a neglect case are able to attain sobriety and reunite with their children, it doesn’t eliminate the crisis that we’re facing overall, but it’s something to celebrate. I’m proud of that.”

A longtime resident of Greenbrier County, Richardson graduated from Greenbrier East High School in 1980, and earned his Bachelor’s degree from West Virginia University in 1984. Richardson attended law school at the University of Virginia School of Law, where he served as an editor of the Virginia Law Review. 

Richardson began his legal career in Washington, D.C., where he worked mainly on civil rights cases for people with disabilities; while in Washington, he also obtained an advanced law degree from the Georgetown University Law Center. Upon his return to his home state, Richardson served as a managing attorney for what is now Legal Aid of West Virginia, and as an adjunct faculty member at the WVU School of Law. In 1997, Richardson went into private practice in Greenbrier County, opening his own firm in 2000. 

“Those years operating my own firm were extremely valuable, in helping me to understand the challenges that small businesses face and in preparing me for my administrative responsibilities within the court system,” Ricahrdson said.

It is fair to say that most people, when interacting with a circuit court judge, are having a bad day. When it comes to those interactions, Richardson says, every situation is different.

“Every week, our Drug Court participants come before the court to report on how they are progressing in their recovery and in maintaining their sobriety,” Richardson said. “For these people, I try to identify positive things that are happening in their lives because of their commitment to remaining drug free. I give them a lot of praise when they’re successful.”

“When I have somebody in front of me for sentencing in a criminal case, I try to be the voice of the community,” Richardson continued. “That voice is different for a first-time offender who recognizes the harm that they’ve caused and who has a plan to do better in the future, than it is for someone who is not concerned with the harm that they’ve caused and who refuses to change.”

“With juvenile offenders, “Richardson added, “It’s often about trying to help them identify where they need to change in order to be successful, and to give them a hope that they can be successful. We have a lot of young people who come into the court system and they haven’t always been dealt the best hand in life. We have to communicate to them that hard work and positive action can result in positive outcomes.”

Elections for all county judges in West Virginia will be held on Primary Election Day, Tuesday, May 14. It is not required for voters to be registered with a political party to vote in judicial elections. Judge Robert Richardson will be challenged in Division 1 of the 29th Judicial Circuit by Ryan Blake. Patrick Via is running unopposed in Division 2.  

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