By Randy Arrington
LURAY, March 11 — Judicial history was made this week when the local commonwealth’s attorney was confirmed as the second native of Page County to earn a judgeship.
“We’re researching that…but I feel pretty sure that he is the first person that was a native of Page County to be appointed to that position,” Page County Circuit Court Clerk Grayson Markowitz said this week.
On Wednesday afternoon in Richmond, both houses of the General Assembly confirmed the nominations of five judges submitted by the legislative delegation of the 26th Judicial Circuit to fill vacancies within the region. Among those confirmations was Page County Commonwealth’s Attorney Kenneth L. Alger II, who was appointed as a General District Court judge. Alger will begin his duties on June 1 and replace the Honorable Dale Houff, who officially retires on May 1 after more than two decades on the bench.
“I’m very grateful to the Valley delegation, and especially Speaker [Todd] Gilbert and Senator [Mark] Obenshain for this opportunity,” Alger told Page Valley News on Thursday. “I’m also very grateful to my wife Elisabeth for her support throughout this process.”
Alger, along with 40-plus other judicial hopefuls, submitted their resumes for the General District Court seat in January. The legislative delegation from the seven-county area in the northern Shenandoah Valley then selected nominations from the pool of applicants. In addition to Gilbert and Obenshain, the delegation includes Senator Emmett Hanger, Senator Jill Vogel, Delegate Michael Webert, Delegate Bill Wiley, Delegate Dave LaRock, Delegate Wendy Gooditis, Delegate Rob Bell, Delegate Tony Wilt, and Delegate Chris Runion.
Alger appeared in front of House and Senate subcommittees on Tuesday, and the University of Georgia School of Law graduate was confirmed by the full body of both houses of the General Assembly on Wednesday.
While Houff was the last general district court judge appointed to the bench who resided in Page County back in 2001, he is not originally from Page County. However, Judge Josh Robinson, who was appointed to the circuit court in the 1970s, was born in Page County in June 1923.
After spending six years (2005-2011) as Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney in Shenandoah County and more than a decade (2011-2022) as Page County’s top prosecutor, Alger says the transition to the other side of the bench will be different, but not that much.
“At the end of the day, what’s important is the rule of law. I don’t think it will be a major difference…I’ll just go from enforcing the law, to now interpreting and applying the law…and even before, I’ve been interpreting the law in deciding what to charge,” Alger said. “I’ve been prosecuting for almost 20 years. The one thing that I think will be different is that I’m used to working on a team…as a judge you’re the only one up there.”
Due to potential conflicts from being the county’s prosecutor, Alger will not be allowed to sit on the bench in Page County for one year. He will be assigned to another area initially and sit in courts throughout the judicial district throughout his tenure. Four other General District Court judges rotate within the seven counties of the 26th Judicial Circuit.
“I think it’s great for Page County to have a sitting judge…it will make all legal matters [in that court] get dealt with in a more timely manner…it benefits Page County greatly,” Markowitz said on Friday. “We’re just ecstatic having him appointed to that position…not only that he’s from Page County, but this means we will have a judge sitting in Page County for many years to come.”
Alger, 43, has been involved in numerous community programs and organizations, including the Rileyville Ruritans, Luray Rotary, Red Cross, United Way and the Masonic Lodge, just to name a few. The longtime prosecutor acknowledges the big shoes he has to fill on the bench following the well-respected tenure of Judge Houff, who was appointed in 2001.
“Judge Houff has been my judge, in Shenandoah County and in Page County, he’s always been around, and he is a phenomenal judge,” Alger said. “He knows the law and treats everyone with respect. He is always fair to both sides, prosecution and defense. They are very big shoes to fill.”
Page County’s commonwealth’s attorney plans to utilize the same approach of mutual respect when he steps over to the other side of the bench in about 11 weeks.
“The General District Court is the people’s court…that’s what we call it…you’re dealing with everything from traffic tickets to evictions…most people who come to court come to this court, and I look froward to working with them and treating everyone with respect,” Alger said. “It’s important to remember these are people and to exercise compassion. You have to think about the facts of the case. Laws change with society, and you have to change with it.”
According to Virginia Code, the next in line — Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Cave — will automatically take over the top prosecutor’s role until a special election is held this November to fill the remainder of Alger’s term, which runs through Dec. 31, 2023. Another election for commonwealth’s attorney will be held in November 2023 for the next four-year term, which would run through Dec. 31, 2027.
OTHER 26TH JUDICIAL DISTRICT NOMINATIONS CONFIRMED MARCH 9:
The Honorable Daryl L. Funk of Front Royal
Judge Funk is currently the presiding judge for the Warren County Juvenile & Domestic Relations District Court and previously served as the clerk of the Warren County Circuit Court. He is a graduate of the University of Baltimore School of Law.
Andrew Baugher of Harrisonburg
Baugher is an attorney in private practice at the law firm of Flora Pettit PC in Harrisonburg and a graduate of Regent University School of Law.
Juvenile & Domestic Relations District Court
James A. Drown, of Winchester
Drown is an attorney in private practice with Winchester Law Group and a graduate of Seattle University School of Law.
Nancie M.G. Williams of Front Royal
Williams is the managing partner of Northern Valley Law and a graduate of the Howard University School of Law.
The 26th Judicial Circuit includes the City of Winchester, Frederick County, Warren County, Clarke County, Shenandoah County, Page County, Rockingham County and the City of Harrisonburg.