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Judge Tries Out Both Sides

Judge Dean Worcester has seen both sides of the bench.

The Leesburg-area resident served for 25 years as a prosecutor and an attorney, and since March 1, has been presiding as one of two

judges at the Loudoun County General District Court.

“I have great respect for our legal system in this country. It’s an honor,” Worcester said.

Worcester stepped in for James Forsyth, who served as the general district court judge for six years until he retired on Nov. 1, 2001. The position remained empty until the 140-member Loudoun Bar recommended Worcester to the General Assembly. The General Assembly, in turn, elected Worcester for a six-year term, with the governor making the appointment.

“I’m deeply honored I was nominated by the bar to this position, and I hope I earn the confidence and trust they place in me,” Worcester said.

Worcester served two years as a prosecutor for the Commonwealth’s attorney and spent the rest of his law career as an attorney. The Ohio native grew up in Arlington, spent six years in North Carolina and finished his schooling in Alexandria. He has lived in Loudoun County since 1978.

"He seems very pleasant to work with," said Judith Waddell, clerk of the General District Court. "He seems very upbeat."

WORCESTER’S FATHER was a lawyer, so like “a typical young boy,” he wanted to be just like him, Worcester said.

By the time Worcester entered Hampden-Sydney College, he knew he wanted to be a lawyer. In 1974, he earned a bachelor’s degree in political science there and, four years later, earned a juris doctorate degree from Cumberland School of Law in Birmingham, Ala.

After graduating, Worcester worked for a Leesburg law firm for three years, then joined the Commonwealth Attorney’s office. He soon returned to practicing law as a partner with the late Charles Ottinger until 1991. He continued practicing law with state Sen. William C. Mims (R-33rd) and Bill Atwill, leaving the firm in March to take his present position, where he is paid $110,000 a year.

Previously, Worcester prepared and presented cases and, as an attorney, he sometimes encountered new evidence or witnesses brought by the other side at the trial. He did not hear both sides of a case until the trial.

As a judge, he typically spends an hour reviewing the docket before hearing the cases scheduled that day. He does not become familiar with the particulars of each case until the attorneys present their testimonies and the evidence is brought forward.

“It’s not an easy job," Worcester said. "You have to decide what’s best, but those aren’t always easy decisions,”

WORCESTER’S DAY typically starts at 7:30 a.m. before he hears the arraignments an hour later. At 9:30 a.m., the traffic and the civil and criminal cases are heard in two separate courts, with traffic cases in one and civil and criminal cases in the second.

Worcester and Judge Julia Cannon, a Loudoun County judge for the past 10 years, rotate presiding over the courts twice a month, so they can share the caseload and work with a variety of cases.

The general district court handles traffic violations, misdemeanor offenses with a potential jail time of less than one year and civil disputes of less than $15,000, along with preliminary hearings on felony cases. The preliminary hearings establish probable cause before the case is sent to the grand jury for indictment and on to the circuit court for the trial process.

The circuit court handles felony offenses with a year or more of jail time, civil disputes of more than $15,000 and divorce cases.

“It’s a very satisfying experience to hear the facts of the case, apply the law and make a decision that is going to be fair and just to everybody,” Worcester said.

On Mondays and Wednesdays, the general district court aims to set six civil trials per day, some of which may be settled before trial. Tuesdays and Thursdays are dedicated to preliminary hearings, usually 12 cases, with Fridays reserved for traffic and small claims cases that are handled on a rotating basis. The Traffic Division of the General District Court hears traffic violations cases for the towns, county, state and Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority police.

“My goal is to effectively and efficiently hear all the cases, to render decisions that are fair and just and to treat everybody with dignity and respect,” Worcester said. “Hopefully, at the end of the day, all the citizens who come to court felt they had a fair day in court.”

WORCESTER IS A 22-YEAR member of the Leesburg Rotary Club. In the past, he served on the boards for the American Red Cross, the American Cancer Society and the Loudoun Museum.

Worcester lives north of Leesburg with his wife Tammy Worcester, director of the Girl Scouts for Loudoun County. Their daughter Jennifer Worcester is a junior at Mary Washington College.