Justice, wisdom, compassion

Judge William H. Logan Jr. is retiring April 1 as judge of the Shenandoah County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court. Rich Cooley/Daily

WOODSTOCK — Judge William H. Logan Jr.’s time on the bench in Shenandoah County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court is drawing to a close. Logan, 68, will hear his last case later this month after 16 years of watching the county’s youth and adults entering his courtroom under less than auspicious circumstances. Child support payments, custody disputes, domestic violence and boys and girls in trouble with the law were all part of a day’s work for Logan.

Juvenile courts are different from general district courts and circuit courts, where jail terms and fines are prevalent in criminal cases. Juvenile courts are places of second chances, treatment options and community service sentences for young offenders. Cases often end in what are called deferred dispositions under which charges are dropped if the young offender meets certain conditions over a period of time.

A few cases involving older juveniles and more serious crimes can lead to a boy or girl being locked up or sent to adult court. But Logan says those cases are “few and far between.”

“I view a juvenile judge’s responsibility and purpose as being able to get kids, when they do things wrong, to understand they did something wrong and not do it again,” Logan said. “And that purpose is not to get a pound of flesh and punishment.”

Logan said some substitute juvenile court judges have dismayed him with decisions to impose fines of $750 for traffic violations committed by youngsters.

“Who is going to pay that fine?” Logan asked. “The parents. I’m not here to punish the parents unless they’ve been complicit in the juvenile’s offenses.”

Logan said he cherishes memories of his years as commonwealth’s attorney in Shenandoah County before he was chosen as judge. His father, grandfather and great-grandfather were all commonwealth’s attorneys before him.

“It’s just the satisfaction of wearing the white hat as a prosecutor,” Logan said. “You take pride in doing a good job. People who have been wronged by other people, they need to be adequately represented.”

Logan took his place on the bench just in time to see the caseload soar in juvenile and domestic relations court. There were two juvenile court judges for all of the 26th judicial district in 1990, a jurisdiction that includes Shenandoah, Frederick, Clarke, Warren and Page counties and Harrisonburg and Winchester. Juvenile and domestic relations court in Shenandoah Count took two half days a month.

The intervening quarter century has seen the courts deluged with cases. Before the addition of a judge in December, the caseload was 5,500 to 5,600 for each judge in the 26th district, Logan said. Juvenile and domestic relations court hearings are conducted three and sometimes four days a week.

“If you look at the increase of the population in this area, there has been some increase, but it hasn’t increased to the extent you needed to go from two judges in 1990 to six judges in 2015,” Logan said.

Logan attributes much of the increase to a shift in how student misconduct is handled. The rise of zero tolerance policies governing a range of school rule violations led to many of the cases being settled in juvenile court.

“You used to get disciplined in school,” Logan said. “Now you get disciplined in court.”

Logan said domestic violence charges have also increased as police are instructed to make arrests when they are able to determine the primary aggressor in a family conflict, even if the victim later proves reluctant to testify against the assailant.

Logan said he is one of the few juvenile court judges who asks how much it will cost to place a youthful offender in a treatment facility for substance abuse or mental health problems. The expense — typically about $15,000 a month — is too high to ignore, Logan said.

“There are some sad statistics,” Logan said. “There are some kids in this county who have cost over $1 million in treatment, and they’re probably no better when they turn 18 than when they went in.

“Those are the cases I struggle with.”

Logan said he will continue working as a substitute judge once his retirement takes effect on April 1. His judicial philosophy will be unchanged from the one he has followed since he heard his first case on July 1, 1999.

Logan recalled something he once saw hanging in a circuit courtroom in Harrisonburg.

“There’s a big round sign that has three words: justice, wisdom, compassion,” Logan said. “I think that probably emulated what we should do as a judge. You’ve got to have knowledge of the law, you’ve  got to make sure justice is done but you also have to show compassion.”

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com