Prince William’s newest judge will also be the first African American to serve in the county’s General District Court.
Virginia’s General Assembly recently appointed lawyer Petula C. Metzler to a new fifth judgeship in the court in Manassas. She is to begin a six-year term July 1.
Having an additional jurist is expected to relieve an overcrowded docket in the general district court, and Metzler, an associate with the Woodbridge-based firm of Compton & Duling, was hailed by legislators and lawyers last week as a thoughtful and considerate choice for the position.
Del. Richard L. Anderson (R-Prince William) said that there was “pretty universal agreement” among the legislature’s Prince William delegation that Metzler was well qualified to move from a practice of mainly civil litigation and land-use law to the bench.
State Sen. Scott A. Surovell (D-Fairfax) said Metzler brings a rare perspective to the bench, in that she is an Army veteran. Surovell is a lawyer who, like Metzler, is a member of the Prince William County Bar Association.
“She’s a leader within the community and within the bar,” said Surovell, whose district includes part of Prince William.
Jeani Wiethop, the Prince William bar’s president, said she got to know Metzler through her work with the organization’s executive board. Metzler, who served as the county’s bar president from 2012 to 2013, was both diplomatic and assertive in voicing her opinions in that setting, Wiethop said.
Metzler will be thoughtful, not impulsive, in rendering decisions, Wiethop said.
“She’s a class act,” she said.
Jason E. Hickman, Compton & Duling’s managing member, said that one of the most important things a lawyer or judge can be is a good listener. And, as a judge, Metzler will be able to rule correctly because she can calmly listen to both sides in a dispute and determine the right outcome based on the law, he said.
Del. Jackson H. Miller (R-Manassas) also said that a general district judge can be the “face” of the commonwealth for many residents, the main Virginia official they might encounter in daily life if they are charged with a traffic infraction or misdemeanor offense.
Beyond the obvious benefit of simply making the court system more efficient, the fifth judge’s position should bring about two additional positives, Miller said.
A former police officer, Miller said the police departments in Prince William, Manassas and Manassas Park could save on overtime costs if officers do not have to spend as much time in the General District Court, which handles cases from the county and the two cities.
In the current four-judge environment, officers too often are simply waiting around in the courthouse for their cases to be heard, he said.
Local companies also should benefit , Miller said. Whether they are dealing with landlord-tenant issues or disputes with customers, business owners could see legal matters resolved sooner, he said.
“It’s really great for the business community,” said Miller, who introduced the legislation that expanded the Prince William’s court to five judges. That bill was approved in 2014, but the fifth judge position was not funded in the state budget until this year, which makes Metzler the first to occupy the slot.
Metzler declined to comment for this report, but Karl Brower, president of the NAACP’s Prince William unit, said that minorities still are underrepresented in Northern Virginia courthouses.
Metzler will be the second African American judge overall in Prince William, but there is only one each in Alexandria and in the counties of Fairfax and Arlington, according to a report from an advocacy group called the Virginia Coalition for Racial Diversity in the Justice System. There are no minorities on the bench in Loudoun County, Brower said, quoting the report.