Woman heads Fairfax County District Court for first time

Penney Azcarate has been selected chief judge of the Fairfax County General District Court. She is the first woman to hold the position.

Azcarate, 47, of Falls Church, has served as a District Court judge for more than five years. She succeeds Judge Donald P. McDonough, who ran the court for about a decade.

Azcarate was unanimously selected by her nine colleagues on the court, which handles traffic citations, misdemeanors and infractions of local ordinances. She said she has two major goals initially.

“One of my highest priorities is getting a judicial vacancy filled. We have over 1,000 citizens a day come through our court,” Azcarate said. “The second priority is to get salary raises for the clerks.”

Azcarate said that the judgeship has gone unfilled for about four years and that court clerks have not received a raise for about five years.

Azcarate, a former Marine Corps communications officer, took part in the Persian Gulf War in 1991. She later transferred to the reserves, from which she was discharged honorably as a major. She graduated from the George Mason University School of Law in 1998 and served as a prosecutor in Fairfax County for five years.

McDonough, who will remain a judge on the court, praised Azcarate.

“Judge Azcarate is superbly equipped for this position, admired for her professionalism and leadership, and a favorite of our clerks,” McDonough said in an e-mail. “She will do an outstanding job. It is also about time that a woman led this court. I am personally quite proud of her selection by her colleagues.”

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