July 4, 2022
The Honorable William Dale Houff retired from the bench within the twenty sixth Judicial District simply after presiding for 22 a long time in Regular District Courtroom. A retirement ceremony was held throughout a joint session of all just a few Website County courts on June 10, 2022.

By Randy Arrington

LURAY, June 17 — Above the coaching course of his 22 years on the bench in Regular District Courtroom, the Honorable William Dale Houff listened to a ton of tales, explanations and excuses to justify the charges from the 1000’s that appeared earlier than him. Only one defendant even blamed his small pet canine for his irregular tempo on the freeway.

“He said that the pet canine acquired beneath his foot and pressed the gasoline pedal,” Houff recalled. “Effectively it was not a extraordinarily massive pet and I doubted that it prompted the entire an excessive amount of pace…however I gave the doggy credit score rating for 7 mph, which dropped it under reckless driving.”

The ruling proved to be exemplary of Houff’s philosophy towards deciphering the regulation and demonstrating frequent decency towards his fellow particular person.

“I didn’t see extraordinarily a whole lot of undesirable folks,” the earlier district resolve claimed of the quite a few defendants which have stood simply earlier than him. “I noticed a great deal of nice women and men who did a horrible situation.”

On June 10, a joint session of Webpage County courts acknowledged Houff’s retirement from the bench as his portrait was hung within the Typical District Courtroom space he presided in extra of contemplating that his investiture in 2000. A decision from the Website County Bar Affiliation was learn by by Luray legal professional Robert Janney.

“Decide Houff possessed the vital options to have attained the popularity of staying a extraordinarily extremely regarded select,” Janney examine. “These attributes turning into equity, correct demeanor, implausible consciousness of the regulation, and regard for people displaying up prematurely of him, along with not solely the legal professionals however the get-togethers proper earlier than the Courtroom docket.”

Houff credit former Virginia delegate and current Web page County supervisor Allen Louderback with supporting him develop right into a select all by affirmation within the Fundamental Meeting. He skilled most popular to have Louderback speak at his investiture 22 a number of years in the past, however the brand new resolve was overly conscious on the time of a warning he had obtained to not be related in any means publicly with politics. So, to make up for that, Houff requested Louderback to speak at his June 10 retirement ceremony.

Practically 100 attended the ceremony, comparable to partner and kids, earlier and present colleagues, clerks, attorneys, judges, regulation enforcement officers and even a handful of friends who attended his investiture 21 a few years again. A few of their textual content caught with him in the midst of his tenure on the bench.

“I don’t overlook [attorney] George Shanks expressing that the Typical District Courtroom might be the optimum courtroom docket that the majority women and men at any time get learn in since they only can’t afford to pay for to take it extra,” Houff talked about, noting a particular reference to that time within the Bar’s decision.

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“In civil issues coming previous to him, he was ever cognizant of the financial scenario of the litigants displaying forward of him and thought of his obligations and rulings as a Courtroom of Previous Trip resort,” the decision said.

Just about all charges positioned by the state (other than instant indictments) are initiated in Typical District Courtroom docket. Some are directed to Juvenile and Home Relations Courtroom due to the involvement of minors and home eventualities, and others are kicked as much as the Circuit Courtroom diploma as a result of truth of the severity of the crimes — however the bulk of conditions that go by way of the judicial technique are heard, judged and sentenced in Common District Courtroom.

“We may very simply undergo 200 circumstances in a day…it might be as larger as 300…now, they’re primarily focused guests offenses and a few of them switch considerably swiftly. We’re not striving 300 circumstances, that might be extraordinarily onerous,” Houff claimed. “1 / 4 prepay, 1 / 4 by no means clearly present up [to court], 1 / 4 show up and plead accountable, and the remaining quarter could properly wish to be learn, however it’s normally some factor actually simple.”

Although the regulation has established to be his life’s perform, the previous authorized skilled and decide said that he was not usually specific that it will be his calling.

“I didn’t know in early ’72,” Houff claimed. “I used to be a chemistry massive at Bridgewater Faculty.”

Creating up in Weyers Cave, 1968 graduate of Fort Defiance Substantial Faculty in Augusta County turned eager about dialogue and communications throughout his time at Bridgewater. Phil Stone, who later turned the president of BWC, persuaded Houff to have a look at a job within the laws, and he would commit two summers clerking at Wharton, Aldhizer and Weaver in Harrisonburg. A sturdy total efficiency on his LSATs made the ultimate choice last.

“Regulation served to offer me far more options,” Houff mentioned, “and it retained me from making a conclusion.”

Simply after getting his Bachelor of Arts cum laude from Bridgewater, Houff attained his Juris Doctorate from the School of Virginia in 1975. By connections within the Harrisonburg laws workplace atmosphere precisely the place he clerked, Houff went into apply with John M. Swetnam as an affiliate. Swetnam represented huge clientele in Web page County, these as Luray Caverns and Web site web page Valley Monetary establishment (now Blue Ridge Monetary establishment).

“His affiliation with Jack Swetnam launched him into the Website County Bar lower than the wing of a pillar of the authorized and financial neighborhood,” the decision honoring Houff reads. “He may have had no finer mentor than Jack Swetnam, who was considered a male of probity, scrupulous remedy, equity, focus to element, and light-weight excellent humor.”

Swetnam was 62 when Houff joined his group, which modified its identify to Swetnam and Houff in 1978. The group would retain that title even simply after Swetnam’s demise in 1992, and Houff would proceed to be the one practitioner within the workplace proper up till his election to the bench within the twenty sixth Judicial District in 2000.

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“He helped me a ton,” Houff reported of Swetnam, who he credit as getting his finest mentor. “He did much more firm and I did a substantial amount of actual property, which is unusual for district courtroom docket judges who usually come from extra legal backgrounds…however I used to be properly served by my true property background. He was a extraordinarily large and imposing fella…dressed impeccably. He fearful a considerable amount of folks even though he was as nice as might be.”

Whereas even now working towards laws, Houff served as assistant commissioner of accounts in Web page County from 1979 by 2000. In that place, he helped settle estates, notably for Robey G. Janney, who served as Commissioner of Accounts and couldn’t settle estates for his particular person clients.

“I acquired a considerable amount of jobs and duties given that I used to be associated with a group with a successfully revered lawyer,” Houff said. Previous to his seat on the bench, he served on the board of Internet web page Memorial Hospital and as chairman of the Web page County Republican Committee. His civic involvement additionally arrived at to the Lions Membership, the Luray Park Affiliation, Luray Tiny League, Carrying out Arts of Luray (PAL) and the Principal Avenue Singers.

Even proper after far more than twenty years, the earlier decide who formally retired on April 30 nonetheless remembers his preliminary days on the bench vividly. Possessing held courtroom all around the twenty sixth Judicial District, Houff’s recollection of legal professionals he noticed in his initially instances reads like a lawful and political “who’s who” within the northern Shenandoah Valley.

“It was Might maybe 15, 2000 in Woodstock…the very first legal professional I noticed was Todd Gilbert,” Houff claimed of Virginia’s newest Speaker of the Family, who was beforehand a prosecutor in Shenandoah County. “The subsequent day…Might 16, 2000, I used to be in Warren County and one of many preliminary legal professionals I noticed was John Bell, now the Commonwealth’s Authorized skilled in Warren County…after which on Might probably 18, 2000, my 1st day in Pager County I noticed Paintings Goff, who was Assistant Commonwealth Lawyer on the time and later turned Commonwealth’s Lawyer in Rappahannock County.”

Houff even famous working with Select Clark Ritchie, who presided concerning the June 10 retirement ceremony, when he was a youthful Commonwealth’s Lawyer in Shenandoah County.

Having fun with an unusually superior June afternoon in his Luray dwelling per week instantly after his retirement ceremony, the earlier resolve suggests 3 issues direct him to consider retirement presently. First, Houff arrived on the optimum particulars for his retirement again once more in 2018. Second, he recalled severely having fun with a working time off previous Veteran’s Day, which fell on a Thursday — usually a busy working day in courtroom. And third, the lack of lifetime of earlier Select Richard A. Claybrook, which Houff talked about “had a major affect” on him.

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“I simply imagined it was time,” he reported.

Houff has agreed to substitute on the bench, however the laws wants him to be retired for 13 months proper earlier than coming again once more instead — which tends to make him certified to seize the gavel over again on Aug.1.

With a existence rooted within the laws for virtually a 50 % century, the retired select states not considerably has reworked within the regulation, although he acknowledges harder legal guidelines on drunk driving in the midst of his time on the bench and nearly all penalties for marijuana possession being taken out. He says whole attitudes towards the bench within the courtroom haven’t altered that significantly over the a number of years and have consistently ranged “from respectful to downright impolite.”

“Now the oddity is to see a youthful particular person are available with a coat and tie,” Houff talked about.

However, no matter how someone is dressed or how they spoke, the truthful-minded resolve normally tried out to deal with completely everybody the precise.

“I assume the hardest element on occasion was to make optimistic the laws is utilized to most individuals in an equivalent-handed method and never let folks’s intelligence, or absence thereof, impact what you do,” he mentioned.

Houff remembered getting instructed as he went because of transient training on how one can be a resolve that “folks would alternatively be learn than agreed with.”

“In authorized eventualities, he heard your complete scenario and every witness earlier than faithfully making use of impartially the specifics of laws,” the Web site web page County Bar’s decision reads. “Not nearly each celebration was content material together with his judgment, however his launched conclusion was practically at all times acknowledged and there have been variety of appeals from his rulings.”

Managing completely everybody the exact same and adhering to the rule of regulation have been mantras that guided Houff’s lawful occupation as a result of truth he handed the bar in 1975. His even demeanor and dependable acts of frequent decency — each within the courtroom and the group — have remaining a legacy of compassion and respect.

“The way in which you ship [an opinion] and make clear it, is as vital as the ultimate choice by itself,” Houff mentioned. “I hope women and men felt like they’ve been listened to…I usually tried to be cautious to not be disrespectful to folks right now no situation how they expressed them selves.”


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