“Fauquier is becoming a focal point of land rights cases,” William Ashwell says.
I think what Warrenton gave me was to practice the kind of law I wanted to, while living a lifestyle that made me happy and was good for my family.
At just 29, the motivated Warrenton attorney already has won a Virginia Supreme Court case.
Exuding a humble, yet confident demeanor, William Ashwell has worked as an associate attorney at Mark B. Williams & Associates in Warrenton for almost four years.
His office overlooks Culpeper Street, directly across from the circuit courthouse where he represents citizens in civil and criminal cases.
“To me, as a lawyer, like being a doctor or in any other field, I think you talk through what you do, what you experience and what you produce,” Mr. Ashwell said. “I’m not interested in talking to people about how great I am. I’d rather show them.”
Practicing law runs in the family.
His father, J. Gregory Ashwell, has served as Fauquier's general district court judge since 2011. Judge Ashwell worked as an assistant commonwealth’s attorney before the General Assembly appointed him to the bench.
A Fauquier County native, Mr. Ashwell drew inspiration from his father while watching him work as a prosecutor.
“I don’t remember much about the cases, but I remember watching him in court, his demeanor, his disposition, the way he was as a litigator,” Mr. Ashwell said. “That certainly influenced my desire to become an attorney. To know him at home and then see him in the public arena was pretty neat.”
Mr. Ashwell said his father provided an example of how to practice law the right way.
“Once I got into (the job), I was surprised about attorney advertising,” he said. “I think unfortunately clients get jaded by different attorneys over promises or representations that aren’t true. I think that the profession kind of gets painted with this brush, based on how (some) attorneys practice law.
“I think there is a right and a wrong way to practice law,” Mr. Ashwell said. “I think I’ve tried to figure out how you represent a client’s best interests and make sure they understand the whole process and get the result they are looking for in the best way possible.”
After earning his bachelor’s and law degrees, Mr. Ashwell returned to Fauquier County to start his career and a family.
“I think what Warrenton gave me was to practice the kind of law I wanted to, while living a lifestyle that made me happy and was good for my family,” he said.
Mr. Ashwell’s successful Virginia Supreme Court appeal in the case of Chacey v. Garvey earned unusual recognition for a young attorney. Relatively few lawyers — at any age — ever argue before Virginia’s highest court.
The civil case involves a dispute between landowners over a logging company that allegedly removed trees from Valerie Garvey’s property near Markham without permission.
Ms. Garvey in 2012 filed suit in Fauquier County Circuit Court, alleging timber theft, trespass and property damage against Allan and Susan Chacey.
A jury awarded Ms. Garvey $135 in reforestation costs, $15,000 in trespass damages and $150,000 in legal fees. The Chaceys, whom Mr. Ashwell represents, appealed the decision granting the plaintiff legal costs.
“Not only was it our position that the statute didn’t authorize an award of attorney’s fees but also, second, that award was disproportionate,” Mr. Ashwell said.
In December, the Supreme Court of Virginia ruled in favor of Mr. Ashwell and his clients.
“Fauquier is becoming a focal point of land rights cases,” Mr. Ashwell said. “We are seeing a big microscope here, because we are seeing a balance of becoming a more metropolitan-type place, but also remaining very traditional, very rural.”
Old Town Warrenton
Associate attorney, Mark B. Williams & Associates in Warrenton since 2012.
Practices primarily in civil and criminal litigation, domestic relations, wills and trusts and appellate advocacy.
Law clerk, Mark B. Williams & Associates, 2011; law clerk, Gulick, Carson & Thorpe in Warrenton 2010.
• Why do you do the job?
I love to be in court, and when I wonder why, I kind of see my position as being the bridge between my clients and what their goals are and the court system, being that person who can articulate and kind of walk them through the process as best I can.
Wife, Lucy, with a child on the way.
Law degree, University of Dayton, 2012; bachelor’s degree, English, Hampden-Sydney College, 2008; Notre Dame Academy, Middleburg, 2004; Liberty High School, 2000-02.
• Civic involvement
Board member, Fauquier SPCA.
• How long have you lived in Fauquier?
I was born and raised here. The only time I left Fauquier was for college, law school and briefly to England.
• Why do you live here?
I love the ties I’ve made in the county. People, friends, family have been a positive influence on my life, and it’s something I want to continue to nurture and grow. I think this is the perfect kind of town on the cusp, rural Piedmont Virginia, less than an hour away from the biggest city in the world. It’s the perfect compromise for growing up and starting a family. Coming back here was a no-brainer as far as where it’s positioned in the commonwealth. It’s a great place to be.
• How do you describe this county?
Fauquier has been very good about maintaining its heritage and identity. I think what we are going to see in the next couple of years is how the county is going to handle some inevitable transition. I think we are going to be a county that’s really maintaining that heritage that’s important to everyone who resides here, but try to learn and adapt as growth knocks on the door.
• What would you change about Fauquier?
It may be kind of more about Warrenton than Fauquier. Coming from my short time of living in Culpeper, how do we bring in more restaurants, businesses?
Warrenton has some fantastic small businesses, restaurants, but I think by volume, people want to figure out how do we attract these people who are going to Culpeper.
I think Culpeper has done a fantastic job of reinventing itself over the last 15 years. Warrenton by no means needs to reinvent itself. I think it just simply needs to continue to look for opportunities to say, hey, are you looking to open a business, restaurant, how do we help you?
The one thing I think I would change is continuing to build Warrenton and Fauquier in a positive way like a lot of surrounding counties are doing.
• What do you do for fun?
I’m a big sports fan. I watch soccer and play golf, lacrosse and soccer. I try to stay active and fit. My wife and I recently bought a 100-year-old house (in Warrenton). That’s become our main hobby lately.
• What’s your favorite place in Fauquier?
I don’t have one favorite place. I spend a lot of time at Claire’s at The Depot, playing golf at Fauquier Springs Country Club and Old Town Warrenton.
• What will Fauquier be like in 10 years?
I think the county will see a marked increase in people who call Fauquier home. I think the difference will be between those who call Fauquier home for their home and work life versus just their home life. Are we going to be a commuter community? I’m optimistic that Fauquier will grow in a positive way and that our people who live here will have the additional economic boom and smart growth that will see a good, solid county in 10 years. Maintaining this small town historic feel, but not losing our identity. I’m hopeful Fauquier will look the same.
• Favorite TV show?
• Favorite Movie?
• Favorite book?
“The Sun Also Rises” by Ernest Hemingway.
• Favorite vacation spot?
Bald Head Island, N.C.
• Favorite food?
Pizza and Indian food.
• What is the best advice you have ever received? From whom? Something my dad told me a long time ago: “Always live like you’re going to run for president someday.” He always emphasized to me no matter how old you are, no matter the circumstances, you are going to be held responsible for what you do and what you say.
• Who’s your hero and why? My dad. Not only the example he showed me growing up but largely from a professional standpoint, he’s been a tremendous model to me for the right way to practice law. Especially being a young attorney, it’s good to have a good example and he’s provided that.
• What would you do if you won $1 million in the lottery? Travel, travel, travel. Both my wife and I lived in England for awhile. Warrenton’s a wonderful place to come back to, call home, but there are experiences that you can’t pass up all over the world.
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