Bo Trumbo is retiring from public life— again.
This time, he’s leaving the 25th Circuit Court bench where he’s served since his last retirement as a State Senator.
Sitting as a circuit court judge might be stretching the “public life” a bit since judicial ethics require judges to pretty much keep their mouths shut out in the public and not do anything that would compromise their integrity and objectivity in ruling on cases.
For those who have known Malfourd “Bo” Trumbo for the more than three decades he’s lived in Botetourt, that not speaking in public could be presumed to be the hardest part of this transformation from lawyer and politician to judge.
He still got his licks in though— only in the courtroom where he admits he has been prone to lecture those involved in both criminal and civil cases.
He is often amazed that people will turn to the courtroom to solve their problems.
“I’ll tell ’em from the bench, ‘Why you want a stranger to decide your life is beyond me,’” he said.
His 13 years on the bench have not quelled his sense of humor, either. The rumor around the Botetourt County Courthouse is that he actually has a dream job that he might apply for— to the public.
He joked he’d like to run for Virginia’s Lt. Governor with the campaign slogan: “If elected, I will not run for Governor.”
A cushy job at the worst since the Lt. Governor’s main responsibility is presiding over the Senate’s 30-day and 60-day sessions and casting a vote here and there when there’s a tie— and, in some instances, preparing to run for governor.
Trumbo joked to one courthouse official that he wouldn’t even need an office in Richmond.
When he decided to leave the Virginia Senate he was becoming disappointed in how politics was changing— the animosity between the two parties was making it more and more difficult to solve problems, and one attribute Trumbo believes he has is being a problem-solver— a mediator.
In fact, that’s what he’ll do after he leaves the bench at the end of the year. He’s going to work part-time as a mediator for a Richmond firm, McCannon Group, some of it public policy mediation.
“Some people say I mediate here (in the courtroom) anyway,” he added.
“I always considered myself a problem solver on the bench. I realize everyone I saw had problems, but couldn’t solve them.”
And after retirement, there also are grandkids.
That transition from State Senator to judge proved a bit difficult for someone who loves people and interacting with them.
“It was difficult. I was the best back-slapping politician you ever saw,” he jokes. “I ended up staying home and not going to church as much, not going to social events.
“For the last 13 years I’ve hibernated. I mow a lot of grass, fix water heaters…so I stayed home. It was a very difficult transition.
“There can’t be a perception of favoring one party over the another (in the courtroom),” he said.
He admits to missing the social contacts he had before assuming the circuit court position, and perhaps that’s why he’s ready to retire as he prepares to turn 63 in November.
It’s a reason, too, that he’s not sure he would assume a spot as a substitute judge. “As long as you’re on the substitute judge list, you’re confined to the judicial canons,” he continued. “I’m afraid I may say something I shouldn’t and get in trouble with JIRK (Judicial Inquiry and Review Commission).”
Trumbo’s public life was spurred by his parents— his father a principal and his mother a teacher. “We were raised to recognize we had benefits others didn’t. We were always expected to do whatever we could do to help someone else,” he continued. That extended to the family’s social life of inclusion in most school-centered activities.
Still, he said he’s never considered himself a “public servant.”
“I consider myself publicly involved,” he said.
He took advice from someone who told him to not “get married to a political office” either. If you do, he said he was told “you’ll do everything you can to keep it and you won’t be worth a damn.”
So, his efforts as a Delegate and State Senator were “to use whatever talents to make a better society,” he said.
That philosophy played well in his Senate District and House District.
“I’ve been a redneck all my life,” he said. “I understood the people I lived with.”
He envisions he’ll have more to say publicly, too, and have a chance to be more social once he steps down from the bench.
As for being a judge: “Educational” is the term that came to mind first.
He confided that he did well in law school and in his law practice, but he said he was exposed to a side of society that he found difficult.
“You see the underbelly of the world you never saw before, particularly criminal,” he said.
His philosophy though: “Everybody makes mistakes, but the second time it’s a choice.”
But he has no tolerance for people who are inconsiderate of children— whether a divorce or criminal matter. “The attorneys will tell you, from the bench I’ll say, ‘Don’t ever put a kid in jeopardy,’” he said.
The cases involving children are also the most difficult to deal with, he added.
When asked what he won’t miss, he said, “The constraints of our legal system in an effort to solve problems,” while noting, “I’ve gone to a great extent of not being a judge who makes laws.”
That’s put him in the position of bringing people up to the bench and telling them “this (the law) is what I can do.”
“But it doesn’t solve the problem, and maybe that’s why mediation is attractive to me,” he continued.
He will miss the people he works with, he said.
He’ll take a prized P. Buckley Moss print with him when he leaves his Botetourt Courthouse office. That print hangs prominently among the law books in the small office off the courtroom.
The print, “The Virginia Gentlemen,” originally had six geese on the snow-covered lawn of the Virginia Capitol in Richmond. As he was able, Trumbo got Virginia governors to sign the print and Moss to add geese to reflect the number of signatures he has gotten— 10 of them.
The last, Terry McAuliffe’s, was added on the current governor’s first trip to Botetourt in January 2014. The others are former Govs, Linwood Holton, Mark Warner, Bob McDonnell, Jim Gilmore, Doug Wilder, Chuck Robb, George Allen, Tim Kaine and Gerald Baliles.
Trumbo stepped down as Chief Judge of the 25th Circuit in late summer with his pending retirement. Interestingly, he’s worked in the Botetourt Circuit Courtroom with a former law partner, Clerk of Court Tommy Moore, who was instrumental in hiring Trumbo in 1984 at Carter, Roe, Emick & Moore, a Fincastle firm that produced four judges—Dudley J. “Buzz” Emick, George Ed Honts III, Thomas Roe and Trumbo.
His replacement will likely be appointed when the General Assembly meets in January., and Trumbo didn’t speculate on who that might be, although the circuit currently has one unfilled judgeship already.
Botetourt County Commonwealth’s Attorney Joel Branscom was considered for that unfilled seat but no appointment was made last year.
He was endorsed by the Botetourt County Bar Association Monday to fill the vacancy that will be created with Trumbo’s retirement.
Why is Trumbo retiring early? He said he can’t build any more retirement within the Virginia Retirement System (VRS) and this gives him the chance to do some mediation.
As for any legacy he might have built: “I told my wife when I died I didn’t want Senator or Judge on my headstone. They’re positions you hold, not who you are.”