BECKLEY, WV (WVNS) — Raleigh County Circuit Court Judge Robert Burnside, Jr., announced Monday, September 25, 2023, that he does not plan to seek re-election to the 10th Circuit Court in May.
Burnside has served as a Raleigh County Circuit Court judge since 1988, when he was elected to fulfil the late Charles Lilly’s unexpired term.
Burnside, a jazz musician, church choir director and avid reader, graduated from Concord College, now Concord University, in Athens with an English degree.
He said on Monday that he had not initially planned on being a lawyer, or a judge.
He was a social worker. Then, the wife of retired West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Justice Thomas McHugh introduced Burnside to McHugh, who was, at that time, a lawyer.
The couple convinced Burnside in the 1970s to attend law school at West Virginia University.
“I wanted to go to law school, because the law seemed to me to be a blend of the things I have interest in- history and philosophy and ethical questions, all those sorts of things,” recalled Burnside.
Burnside said McHugh encouraged him through law school.
“I went into that law library for the first time and saw this immense collection, and in those days they were really books,” said Burnside, adding the online editions are more convenient. “What I came to feel was, right away, this is a huge world I’m stepping into. I’m standing at the door. I’m looking at it.”
Burnside practiced law in Beckley for 11 years with File Payne Scherer and Brown until 1988, when he was elected to finish a term the late Charles Lilly left vacant.
Thirty five years later, Judge Burnside sees his former law office building when he looks out of the window of his study at Raleigh County Circuit Court.
He said his first case as a judge made him anxious, as has each subsequent case, because he strives to arrive at the correct decision, treating each case as a “jigsaw” puzzle which must be completed using centuries of judicial rulings and the facts of an individual case.
Burnside said, after he completes his term, he wants to spend time with his family and to read. He said he also wants to visit Europe.
As he and Tenth Circuit constituents stand at the door of a new era, Burnside seems optimistic.
“I think the future is in good hands, with the judges who are coming through, the new persons, and I have no doubt they’ll be in good hands, with whoever gets elected,” he said.