Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

It’s a privilege to witness judges letting their hair down.

I sat in on the Dec. 17 retirement ceremony for George Varoutsos, who sits on the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court for 17th Judicial District (Arlington and Falls Church).

Gathered with Covid masks on the third floor of Arlington Courthouse was an impressive panel of sitting and retired judges, along with Sheriff Beth Arthur, court services staff, admirers and Varoustos’ wife Sandy and daughter Christine.

After 23 years and four reelections by the Virginia General Assembly, the 73-year-old Varoustos hit the mandatory retirement age. But we heard ample testimony that, given his druthers, he’d go on.

 William T. Newman Jr., chief judge of the Circuit Court, recalled with fondness how he and the fellow life-long Arlingtonian started together as young lawyers. “We haven’t gone far in life,” he joked, confessing to his “mixed feelings” because “now I am the oldest man on the court.”

Newman mentioned how Varoutsos, even with his two University of Richmond degrees and bar association awards, is especially proud of his induction in the Yorktown High School Hall of Fame and Inspiration.

Robin Robb, now chief judge of the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, teased Varoutsos for maintaining a cold courtroom that necessitated coats. Colleagues noted how he would arrive daily and proclaim “It’s a beautiful day. I’m glad to be here.”

Judge Esther Wiggins, retired from the JDR, compared Varoustos to “Forrest Gump— always at the right place at the right time.” Some evidence: at the age of 2, George made the front page of the Washington Daily News after locking himself in a bedroom, which required his attorney father Paul to leave a court session to rescue him. Wiggins teased Varoutsos for his confusing “Egyptian-like” handwriting, which caused her to misunderstand his instructions on child support when she was his substitute.

 The JDR is a “difficult court,” Del. Patrick Hope said as he read the General Assembly proclamation honoring Varoutsos. His career often consisted, the judge has noted, of dealing with people on their worst days.

But Varoutsos’ work with Project Peace, the Arlington program to curb intimate partner sexual violence, was praised by county board member Katie Cristol (whom Varoutsos thanked for renovating the courthouse). The judge’s support for the Safe Havens supervised visitation center and Stop Child Abuse Now of Northern Virginia was praised by SCAN Executive Director Leah Fraley, citing his help with “103 lives rewritten.”

Falls Church Mayor David Tarter read a city council proclamation honoring Varoutsos, citing his work with the Aurora House residential counseling center for teen girls.

Earl Conklin, Director of Court Services, joked that Varoutsos— despite being tough on teens who drive without a license — dreaded retirement because he’d miss the fun of the license ceremony. A second sign, Conklin theorized, was that the judge will miss the office storage space for his sports memorabilia. (Disclosure: Varoustos is this columnist’s friend, and I’ve seen the sports curios lining his chambers.)

A baseball signed by Commonwealth’s Attorney and Public Defender staffs was handed to the judge, who is preparing to attend his 32nd consecutive Super Bowl.

“There’s no better job than being a JDR judge in Arlington,” said a tearful Varoutsos. Calling himself more of “an over-achieving Forrest Gump,” he added, “I get more credit than I deserve, but I’ll take it.”

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Local fans of live music will warm to the just-published “All Roads Lead to the Birchmere: America’s Legendary Music Hall,” written by (club founder) Gary Oelze and Stephen Moore.

That concert venue and restaurant, beloved by nationally known performers on Alexandria’s Mount Vernon Ave., started in Arlington, in 1966 “between an A&P grocery and an aquarium store” in the Claremont Plaza Shopping Center at 2721 S. Wakefield St.

This chatty history offers juicy behind-the-scenes anecdotes about royalty from the rock, folk, bluegrass, country, blues and comedy worlds.

The byline on the book’s foreword is my neighbor, the tragically hip music critic Buzz McClain.