Eugene Butler was at a further education course in Bedford on a Monday morning last month, when he got an unexpected email calling for him to come to Richmond.
The email asked him to appear before the Senate Courts of Justice and the House Courts of Justice, two separate committees of the General Assembly, to answer questions about becoming a judge for the 24th district.
Butler, a Washington D.C. native with more than 20 years of law experience, had been told years ago, when he started the process of trying to figure out how to become a judge in 2017, that he could get a call on a Monday evening saying, “Hey, we need you in Richmond.”
“I was like no, it’s not going to happen, and you know that’s exactly what happened,” Butler said, laughing.
Butler, 50, was voted in by the General Assembly Feb. 22, in the closing days of this year’s session, to serve as a juvenile and domestic relations judge for the 24th Judicial District, which encompasses Lynchburg and the counties of Amherst, Appomattox, Bedford, Campbell and Nelson.
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“It’s almost like a situation where I’m still trying to get used to the fact that I have achieved something that I have really been focused on. I think it really hits me when I talk to so many people, and they’re so happy for me and I realized, man, I’ve been talking about this for a long time,” Butler said.
Butler is the first African American judge to be elected in this district.
Aaron Boone, Lynchburg public defender who has known Butler for 20 years, said he can’t help but emphasize the historic importance.
“The election of Butler in this district is going to make the judiciary more reflective of the community it serves,” Boone said.
Butler said the honor was something he was cognizant of.
“[I] didn’t look at it as me, you know, being the first, but at the same time, my hope is that I won’t be the last,” Butler said.
Butler’s father was a United Methodist minister, so when Butler was growing up, they moved around, as Methodist ministers tend to relocate to serve in different areas.
Butler said a big joy for him in being voted in is his parents will be around to see him get sworn in, June 30.
He explained his father, 81, and his mother, 74, were essential in his journey.
“I knew that it was going to happen, but my biggest fear was that they wouldn’t be around for it. At the end of the day, I’m so thankful for them for paving the way for me for everything that they have done,” Butler said.
Butler went to Patrick Henry High School and James Madison Junior High School in Roanoke and attended Randolph Macon College in Ashland, Virginia, to study political science right after high school.
From there, he attended Washington & Lee Law School in Lexington, Virginia, had a couple of internships and graduated in 1998.
A year after graduating, he worked for an insurance defense firm in Alexandria.
Then, after talking with a friend of his from law school. Butler moved to Lynchburg to do court-appointed work, such as criminal and child support cases. He began taking cases in Campbell County and in the city.
Butler also served until 2006 as a guardian ad litem, an attorney appointed by a judge who determines the circumstances of a matter before the court such as the best interest of children.
Then, he had an opportunity to work for the government, the Division of Child Support Enforcement, to be their attorney for 13 years.
Butler ran for State Bar Council in 2019 and won the role in the 24th District in March 2019. He served as president of the Lynchburg Bar Association from 2019 to 2020.
Mary Chamberlin, an attorney for Petty, Livingston, Dawson and Richards, said Butler was a mentor to her and many younger members of the bar association.
“He is always our first phone call when we have questions and he’s always happy to answer questions,” Chamberlin said.
In 2021, Butler sent a letter to the chief judge to be considered as a substitute judge in the 24th District and was sworn in July 2021.
Patricia Gibbons, a retired attorney who practiced family law for 40 years, 30 of which were in Lynchburg, said she and Butler often talked about him becoming a judge in the district over the last couple of years.
She also wrote a letter on his behalf.
“I’m just elated. I hadn’t felt this strongly about a judgeship in a long time, but I feel like this guy is the perfect fit,” Gibbons said.
The newly chosen judge of the 24th District said going to law school and being a lawyer was always a part of the plan for him.
When asked to reflect on his journey, Butler said “it’s been a road that I have learned from ... I’ve learned from it all.”
“The way I kind of look at it is ... I tried to be like a role model and hope that just like before me, with my parents and other people, that people will look at that and say, you know what, if Eugene Butler can do this, then anybody can do it,” Butler said.