By David Lord
Alexandria, VA – Over 2,000 years ago, Socrates opined that there were four characteristics that defined a good judge. “To hear courteously; to answer wisely; to consider soberly; and to decide impartially.” On June 26, 2020, Alexandria Circuit Court Judge Nolan B. Dawkins retired after a quarter of a century on the bench. Judge Dawkins epitomized the qualities identified by Socrates by bringing compassion, humility and integrity to his job on a daily basis. Judge Dawkins has been a life-long trailblazer, from his childhood, where he was one of the first black students to attend the newly-integrated George Washington High School, to his judicial career, where he became the first black judge to serve in this city.
Still Lives in Alexandria Boyhood Home
As a proud native Alexandrian, Judge Dawkins continues to live in his boyhood home, where he was raised by his parents Curtis and Mittie Dawkins. Judge Dawkins attended Lyles Crouch Elementary School and began high school at Parker Gray, until deciding in 1963 to become one of the first black students to enroll in George Washington High School. This action became possible when T.C. Williams, who had opposed integration, was replaced as superintendent for the Alexandria City Public Schools by John Albohm. Two years later, Dawkins would graduate from the school.
Dawkins legacy of service began at Central State University in Ohio, where he enrolled in ROTC. He would go on to serve the country as a Lieutenant in the United States Army, including a deployment to Vietnam, returning home in 1971. After leaving the military, Dawkins was offered a job in Ohio, but decided instead to enroll in law school in New Jersey, moving there with his then-girlfriend and later wife Lorraine. Dawkins attended Seton Hall Law School and, upon graduation, became a legal aid attorney in that state. In 1977, Dawkins returned to Alexandria, where he had a civil practice with the firm of Dawkins, Delaney, McCarthy & Colton.
In 1994, Dawkins would make history by being selected as Alexandria’s first black judge, taking the bench on Alexandria’s Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court. Dawkins would hold the position for 14 years and would develop a reputation for fairness, compassion, and innovation. An example of his pioneering work included the adoption of a drug court that sought to provide substance abuse treatment to parents struggling with addiction and to provide them with a second chance at reuniting with their children. In 2003, Judge Dawkins would be recognized with the Ally in Prevention Award from SCAN of Northern Virginia, an organization dedicated to the prevention of child abuse.
In 2004, Judge Dawkins sought a position on the Alexandria Circuit Court and was the preferred candidate of the Alexandria Bar Association. Governor Mark Warner was prepared to appoint Judge Dawkins to the position, but Dawkins withdrew from consideration out of concern that Republicans in the General Assembly would not select him for a full term. Four years later, Judge Dawkins was selected by the legislature to serve on the Alexandria Circuit Court. A remarkable crowd of 300 individuals would pack the courtroom for his investiture as a Circuit Court judge. The historic day included speeches from individuals like Bill Euille, who himself would make history as Alexandria’s first black mayor and who was a boyhood friend of Judge Dawkins.
In 2013, Judge Dawkins would join other luminaries by being named to Alexandria’s African American Hall of Fame in an exhibit housed at the Charles Houston Recreation Center, which sits on the original site of the Parker-Gray school. One of Judge Dawkins’ brothers, Arthur C. Dawkins, is also in the Hall of Fame. Arthur Dawkins was a noted musician, educator and vice-Principal at T.C. Williams High School.
Beloved Home-Town Hero
Judge Dawkins status as a beloved home-town hero was on full display on his last day as a judge. Despite the challenges created by the COVID-19, well-wishers wearing face masks gathered in the courtyard to wish Judge Dawkins a happy retirement. The occasion was marked with a sixty-car parade as the community said thank you to judge Dawkins for his service. On a personal note, I’ve had the opportunity to appear as an attorney before Judge Dawkins for nearly 15 years, both in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court and the Alexandria Circuit Court. Judge Dawkins has never viewed any legal matter in his courtroom as “a case.” Rather, he has always sought to connect with the people that come before him, to understand their challenges, passions and needs. Judge Dawkins has always strived to find true justice and to improve the lives of others. Judge Dawkins will be remembered by the Alexandria legal community as a trailblazer known for empathy, compassion and justice.
David A. Lord is Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney, Special Victims Unit Supervisor and the Alexandria Treatment Court (ATC) Coordinator; White-Collar Crimes Liaison; Extraditions & Interstate Detainer Actions, Electronic Evidence Order/Warrant Review; and Conviction Integrity Review point of contact.