To the editor:
The recent letters attacking Judge Nolan Dawkins at best show a lack of understanding of the justice system and at worst are racist. I don’t recall a local white judge ever being subjected by name to such harsh treatment.
In the nearly 40 years that I have known Dawkins, I have consistently witnessed a smart, caring and competent person. Dawkins was also a smart, caring and competent attorney who then became a smart, caring and competent judge.
I got to know Nolan Dawkins because he trained me when I was hired to replace him in the city attorney’s office in 1981. Waiting hours at a City Council meeting or in court give you an opportunity to get to know a colleague.
Although I never heard Dawkins reference it, Alexandria was not the most open place for a Black attorney even in the ‘80s, as the city struggled to shed its racist history. Bar events were held at segregated venues and I remember when the N-word came out of a speaker’s mouth at a bar meeting. Despite the environment, Dawkins succeeded based on his hard work, competence and sense of fairness to all.
I did not just know Dawkins as an attorney. He was also our first Black judge in Alexandria. For six years, I had the honor of serving as a substitute judge under Dawkins. He probably thought he had devoted enough time to training me, and then he had to train me as a judge.
As a sub judge, I observed Dawkins’ dedication and commitment to the people who appeared before him. Dawkins was devoted to treating everyone fairly and to make the best decision based on the evidence and the law. He ruled on thousands of cases, but I never saw him treat anyone like their case was insignificant. If you are not in the legal system you don’t know how unusual his commitment, dedication and treatment of others was.
Judges are charged with making a decision in accordance with the law and based on the evidence before them. The evidence is as good as the facts that the attorneys present. Those facts are then considered under the dictates of the law. If the facts are poorly presented, a judge has no way of knowing that other facts exist that should be considered in a decision.
Furthermore, the law itself is an ever-changing body and sometimes the impact of the facts on the law is a case of first impression. No one can rely fully on former rulings in our current COVID-19 environment. So many things have changed.
In the case of Ibrahim Bouaichi, I know, based on history and who he is, that Dawkins listened carefully to the facts and arguments presented at the hearing and did his best to properly apply the law to the evidence in reaching his decision. He attached conditions to his order to protect the victim and did not “rubber stamp” anything.
Without doubt, the subsequent killing of Karla Dominguez was a tragedy and should not have happened. To be clear, however, it happened because a crazy man killed her, not because a judge was incompetent or didn’t do his job.
Judges are human, but the good ones listen carefully, clarify issues, know the law, render timely decisions and treat everyone who comes before them with respect. Judge Nolan Dawkins was a good judge.
-Barbara P. Beach, Alexandria