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November 13, 2020

Judge Ashwell retiring, entering private practice

Photo/Robert “Pooch” McClanahan
J. Gregory Ashwell worked in private practice, then as a prosecutor before his appointment to the bench in 2007.
FauquierNow File Photo
Will Ashwell, 34, focuses land-use, zoning and other civil matters.
You want to be able to give back when you can still give back. And at age 63, I feel like I’ve got a lot more to give.
— Judge J. Gregory Ashwell
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
After almost 14 years as a Fauquier judge, J. Gregory Ashwell in January will retire from the bench but keep his hand in the legal game.

He and his son William D. “Will” Ashwell, a Warrenton attorney, will open a downtown law firm at 21 Culpeper St. The younger Mr. Ashwell will start Dec. 1.

The judge will join the practice — Ashwell & Ashwell — when his retirement takes effect Jan. 1.

For years, the father and son had talked about forming a firm of their own, Judge Ashwell, 63, explained in an interview Thursday afternoon.

Their discussions got serious “several months ago,” he said.

“Will has come to a point in his career where he’s going off on his own,” Judge Ashwell said. “And, I have been on the bench almost 14 full years, coupled with my 22 years as a prosecutor and seven years as a defense lawyer in private practice. It’s almost like the closure of the circle.”

The idea of starting a practice appeals to him for a few reasons, Judge Ashwell said.

“How many people in their professional capacity get to work with their child?” he said. “It’s just a nice vibe, being able to end my career in the practice of law with my son.”

Post-retirement, Judge Ashwell also believes he still has something to offer professionally.

“You want to be able to give back when you can still give back,” he said. “And at age 63, I feel like I’ve got a lot more to give.”

Judge Ashwell, who sits on the general district court benches in Fauquier and Rappahannock, on Thursday submitted a three-sentence retirement letter to Virginia Supreme Court Chief Justice Donald W. Lemons.

The Virginia General Assembly, which convenes in January, will appoint his successor.

Because Judge Ashwell will draw a pension, the Code of Virginia prohibits him from practicing in all state courts. Those include the circuit, general district, juvenile and domestic relations, appeals and supreme courts.

When he joins the new practice, Judge Ashwell will work as a mediator, do some federal court work and help his son prepare state court cases.

“I see myself as a knowledge base in the office,” he said. “I might be familiar with issues that others might not. I would assist with trial briefs and memoranda, with appellate briefs — things like that.”

Under the law, he can’t sit at the counsel table or speak during state court proceedings, Judge Ashwell said.

His father brings an “amazing body of experience” to the practice, said the younger Mr. Ashwell, who earned a law degree from the University of Dayton in 2012.

“He hasn’t just been a classically trained private practice attorney,” he said. “He’s been a career prosecutor and he’s been a judge. Those perspectives, I think, are going to be invaluable for everybody.”

Judge Ashwell opened a law office in Warrenton in 1982. From 1995 to 2007, he worked as a prosecutor in the Fauquier County Commonwealth’s Attorney Office. In 2007, the Virginia General Assembly appointed him to Fauquier’s Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court.

Four years later, legislators appointed him to the Fauquier General District Court judgeship.

Judge Ashwell serves the 20th Judicial District, which includes Fauquier, Loudoun and Rappahannock counties.

He and his father envision a full-service general practice, Will Ashwell said.

“We’re going to do a lot of criminal and civil litigation, domestic relations,” he said. “I’ve been very lucky to carve out a land-use and zoning practice that I’m very proud of and want to expand.”

Mr. Ashwell joined Mark B. Williams & Associates at 27 Culpeper St. in 2012

He told Mr. Williams of the plan to start a father-son firm about five months ago.

“I think he knew that this was probably a goal of mine for a while,” said Mr. Ashwell, 34. “I just think it was always a question of timing.”

The Ashwells’ decision to establish a firm didn’t surprise him, Mr. Williams said.

“Will and his dad are very close,” he said. “Will talked about it for years.”

When Will Ashwell leaves Mr. Williams’ firm, he will take some clients with him.

“Most of his work is civil work,” said Mr. Williams, 68. “So, it’s not unexpected that they would go with him. But, many of those cases we wouldn’t handle anyway, because it’s not what we do.”

For 30 years, his firm has built a reputation for criminal defense, Mr. Williams said.

But Mr. Ashwell’s departure will result in “somewhat of a financial hit” to his firm, Mr. Williams said.

“At some point, if we don’t replace it, that’s just a book of business we won’t do,” he explained. “We’re looking at it now — how to handle it. What are we going to do? What don’t we want to do? And we’re trying to figure that out. Do I want to bring another lawyer on?”

Both Mr. Williams and Mr. Ashwell said they will part ways on the best of terms.

“It’s been absolutely great,” Mr. Ashwell said of his years with Mr. Williams’ firm. “And it’s been a pleasure to work with Mark.”

Mr. Williams described him as a “great friend” and skilled attorney.

“Will has the ability to take a very complex matter and simplify it — make it so a judge or a jury understands what he’s talking about,” he said. “He has a great courtroom presence. And, he’s going to have a long future and great success.”

The Ashwells last month, under Ash Capital Holdings LLC, purchased the office building at 21 Culpeper St. for $632,689. The building stands next door to Mr. Williams’ office.

Contact Don Del Rosso at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or 540-270-0300.
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ConcernedMom · November 14, 2020 at 11:23 am
Judge Ashwell has been a truly amazing judge and father. He's always been fair and honest and does not tolerate any type of nonsense. I wish more authoritative figures were more like him. Best wishes Judge Ashwell!
Truepat · November 13, 2020 at 1:59 pm
A loss of a great Judge but a gain of a great Law Firm, congratulations!!!
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