By Edie Gross
In courtrooms throughout southern Virginia, Circuit Court Judge Kimberley Slayton White ’85 regularly witnesses the sad consequences of the country’s opioid epidemic. But once in a while White receives letters from former defendants, thanking her for the lectures that set them on the right path or the diversionary sentencing that provided a second chance.
“That’s one of my favorite days, when I can dismiss a felony charge because they’ve done what they were supposed to do,” White said. “Or they’ve gone bed to bed, from jail to a treatment program, and they’ve come back to court and they look like a different person.”
Long before White became the first woman to serve as a judge in the 10th Judicial Circuit, she served on Mary Washington’s Judicial Council, chairing it her senior year. She initially visited campus because her father’s cousin, William Anderson, was an executive vice president at the college; Anderson would shortly become its president, and its longest-serving one at that. But it was the campus atmosphere that persuaded White to apply early decision.
“I dare anyone who looks at Mary Washington not to just be blown away by what it is,” said the South Boston, Virginia, resident. “The look of the place, the feel of it. It was just a good, all-around liberal arts education, which is what I wanted.”
While carrying a double major in American studies and English with a literature concentration, White also served as the secretary for the College Republicans and, in 1984, editor-in-chief of the Battlefield yearbook. After graduating, she attended Mercer Law School in Macon, Georgia, before returning to Virginia to launch her legal career.
White first worked for her uncle’s law firm in South Boston while also serving as a part-time public defender, working on cases ranging from serious traffic offenses to capital murder. Her growing interest in criminal law led her to Lynchburg, where she served as both an assistant and deputy commonwealth’s attorney before joining the Danville office of the Woods Rogers law firm, where she made partner. While on maternity leave with her younger child, White decided to mount a campaign for Halifax County commonwealth’s attorney, a position she held from 2004 to 2012. In August 2012, Gov. Bob McDonnell appointed White as an interim Circuit Court judge, a position the General Assembly then elected her to the following January.
The 10th Judicial Circuit covers eight counties from Buckingham and Cumberland in the center of the state down to Halifax and Mecklenburg on the North Carolina border. White said she generally serves in at least two of those counties each week and more if the docket demands. Her colleagues in the circuit voted her chief judge this year, so in addition to hearing her own civil and criminal cases, she assigns judges to the rest of the circuit’s caseload.
Having served as both a public defender and a prosecutor, White said she feels like she’s brought a diversity of experience to the bench and an ability to see cases from all points of view.
“It is such a rewarding job and at the same time, very heartbreaking,” she said. “The nature of the job is resolving disputes, so it’s a bit of both.”