Judge likes historic Jefferson courthouse

February 10, 1997


Staff Writer, Charles Town

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - When Circuit Judge Christopher Wilkes takes the bench in the Jefferson County Courthouse, he sees a room that looks nearly the same as it did when it opened in the 1870s.

The judge said he likes touring old courthouses around the country - and he's even been to one in the Bahamas. He says the Jefferson County Courthouse is finest he's ever seen.

The benches look like pews and the room has a still, solemn air like a church. People walk into the courtroom and turn quiet, he said.


"Look at this room," Wilkes said. "I just love it."

Wilkes became the circuit judge in Jefferson County last month when the three Eastern Panhandle judges rotated their positions in the circuit.

He had worked as the circuit judge in Berkeley County since 1993. Before that, Wilkes had been a municipal judge in Martinsburg and Ranson.

Wilkes, 40, always knew he wanted to become a lawyer. Growing up in the small Berkeley County community of Gerrardstown, he read about history and law.

He remembers sitting around the kitchen table, discussing history and legal issues with his father.

After Wilkes graduated from Musselman High School and West Virginia University, he enrolled in Ohio Northern University's law school. During his college years, his father left behind his career as a chemical engineer and decided to become a lawyer, too.

While Wilkes said he enjoys being a judge, he dislikes having to hear cases involving child abuse and child neglect. Wilkes has two daughters, Catie, 9, and Lauren, 16 months, with his wife, Pat. The walls of his chambers are covered with the artwork of his older daughter.

The judge laments the times he's rushed to make decisions that affect children. He said he is sometimes asked to decide on where a child should live, but not given time to get the information he needs.

"There's a national trend to hurry things through the court system,'' Wilkes said. "Our state has imposed time standards and ours is not a business where you can create artificial standards."

Not all of the events in the courtroom are somber. Wilkes enjoys the opportunity to preside at legal proceedings that are also celebrations.

Wilkes said he loves to perform weddings, but the favorite part of his job comes when he can unite parents who want a child with a child who needs a home. "I love doing consent adoptions," the judge said. "They really are happy occasions."

Day in and day out, Wilkes says he tries to remember that even a seemingly routine case matters to the people who come before him. "That's humbling," he said. "Even though it's another day in the office to me, to many of the people who walk in's one of the most important days of their lives."

Wilkes says he also tells jurors to keep in mind how important their duty is. He asks them to think about whether, if they were on trial, they would want someone like themselves on the jury.

The judge said he holds himself to the same standard.

Wilkes pointed to the defense and prosecution tables. "If I was down there, I'd want someone like me up there," the judge said.

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