“It is the one part of the judicial branch that is the closest that many people come to the court system. 90% of US citizens will do their legal business in General District Court,” said Louis K. “Kerry” Campbell. He has been a judge in General District Court for almost 25 years. He retires at the end of the month.
Campbell was born in Arlington, Virginia and moved to Fincastle at age 3. His parents ran Fincastle Pharmacy for years. He was educated in the public schools of Botetourt County at Breckinridge Elementary and Lord Botetourt High School. He received an undergraduate degree from the College of William and Mary and a JD Degree from the Marshall-Wythe School of Law at the College of William and Mary. He was admitted to the Virginia Bar in 1975 and began his law career as Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney in Botetourt County in 1975 He is also a discharged veteran of the United States Army with the rank of 1st Lieutenant. He lives with his wife Marsha in Fincastle and they have a grown son Alex, in Blue Ridge.
He prosecuted his first case in 1975 as an Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney working with Commonwealth’s Attorney E.C. Westerman. The case took place on his third day out of law school. “It was a car theft case,” he said with a laugh and it was a part time job. He was the first Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Botetourt County ever had. He also maintained a private practice until 1988 with first Westerman, then Jacob Ladenheim and Ralph Wiegandt. In 1988, he became a General District Court Judge covering primarily Craig and Botetourt Counties during the course of his career. He believes he has seen over a half million cases, though not all of them came to court during his tenure as a General District judge. He also said, “I would say I have driven over 54,700 miles over Caldwell Mountain to get to Craig County Courthouse in New Castle– over and back!”
” I enjoyed being here. Judges do not judge people, they judge actions.” He had a reputation for being tough, but fair, keeping to the letter of the law. Sheriff Ronnie Sprinkle said, ” I certainly think he has been effective and we hate to lose his experience. He has been fair and kept a good courtroom.”
Lawyer Mac Doubles who often argued for clients against the Commonwealth in front of Campbell said ” He was a fine judge. His experience will be missed on both sides.” In all of his years on the bench Campbell remarked, “Only 8-10 people have ever thanked me for helping them. I prefer to quote Joel Branscom (Commonwealth’s Attorney,) ‘We see a lot of good people on a bad day.’ The legislature comes up with the code. We just apply it.”
When asked about his reputation with speeders especially on the I 81 corridor through Botetourt County, Campbell was quick to clarify, “Speeders?” That is not an accurate term. It is the handling of reckless drivers that are 20 miles over the speed limit and that is reckless driving by law. I am concerned with the other drivers on the road who are put at risk by people driving like that. I have a willingness to use all the law provides for reckless drivers.”
Commonwealth’s Attorney Joel Branscom said, “Judge Campbell had a quick wit. He was not always thrilled with what a witness might say in court. He always commented though, that both attorneys and the Commonwealth did their best to either defend or convict. I am going to miss him the most. I do hope whomever replaces him will seek his advice.”
Campbell will be able to substitute all over the state and it is something he will likely do. He will be eligible after 30 days. His next expected step is to become the 168th Grand Master of the Masons in Virginia this November.
He concluded, “It has been a great pleasure working with the people in Botetourt and Craig counties. These counties are different than many localities and in a good way.”