A longtime magistrate judge on the Western District of Virginia, Judge Robert Ballou has beaten out public defender Juval Scott for a federal judgeship.
A native Virginian, Robert Stewart Ballou received a B.A. from the University of Virginia in 1984 and a J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law in 1987. He then clerked for Judge Peter Beer on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana before becoming an associate with Christian, Barton, Epps, Brent & Chappell in Richmond. In 1992, Ballou moved to Roanoke to become a Partner with Johnson, Ayers & Matthews.
In 2011, Ballou became a federal magistrate judge on the Western District of Virginia, replacing Judge Michael Urbanski, who was elevated to a lifetime appointment.
In 2018, upon the recommendation of U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, he was considered by President Trump to be a district judge on the Western District of Virginia. However, in May 2019, the Trump Administration broached the nomination of U.S. Attorney Thomas Cullen. However, Warner and Kaine refused to back Cullen unless he underwent the same vetting process that Ballou went through. Warner and Kaine reopened the nomination process after their choices to the White House were rejected and Cullen was recommended, nominated, and confirmed.
History of the Seat
Ballou has been nominated for the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia. This seat opened on August 30, 2021, when Judge James Parker Jones moved to senior status. In August 2021, Warner and Kaine recommended Ballou and Western District of Virginia Federal Public Defender Juval Scott to fill the vacancy. After an unusually long vetting process, Ballou was nominated for the vacancy on July 13, 2022.
Ballou spent his entire career prior to becoming a judge as a civil attorney in private practice. The vast majority of this practice was in the City of Roanoke. Among the matters he handled, Ballou represented Aaron Pierce, who was convicted in the hit and run death of Virginia Tech student Brian Joseph McCloskey, and was later sued for negligence. See Mike Allen, 2nd Lawsuit Filed in Tech Student’s Death; The Victim Was Run Over in ‘05; The Suit Alleges Negligence, Richmond Times Dispatch, Nov. 6, 2007.
Ballou’s work involved personal injury work in both state and federal court, usually representing defendants. See, e.g., Campbell v. Aubrey Faulconer & Sons, Inc., 67 Va. Cir. 416 (Cir. Ct. Amherst Cnty. 1996). See also Arnold v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 866 F. Supp. 955 (W.D. Va. 1994). He also handled such matters on appeal, arguing before the Virginia Supreme Court to overturn a jury verdict holding his client responsible for a car accident where another vehicle skidded off a road. See Harris v. Harman, 253 Va. 336 (1997).
Since 2011, Ballou has served as a federal magistrate judge in the Western District of Virginia. In this role, he presides over settlement, preliminary hearings, bail, and any cases where the parties consent to his jurisdiction.
Among the matters he handled as magistrate judge, Ballou awarded plaintiffs approximately $75000 in legal fees after a suit against sectarian prayers at the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors meetings. See Danville Register & Bee, Costs Keep Climbing in Pittsylvania Prayer Case, Richmond Times-Dispatch, May 12, 2015.
In another matter, Ballou declined to sanction plaintiff’s attorneys for using the term “murder” to refer to the death of Linwood Lambert in police custody, after the attorney promised to remove the word from pleadings and not to use it going forward. See Bill McKelway and John Ramsey, Police May Have Violated Rules on Stun Gun Use in Man’s Death, Richmond Times Dispatch, Nov. 13, 2015.
Among the opinions that Ballou authored, he found defendant Thomas King guilty of driving under the influence on federal lands, but found him not guilty of intentionally interfering with the official duties of the officers who apprehended him. See United States v. King, 894 F. Supp. 2d 737 (W.D. Va. 2012).
As a longtime magistrate judge with three decades of legal experience, Ballou is likely to have a comfortable confirmation process. Most criticisms of his nomination are likely to come from those disappointed with the fact that Scott was passed over, and that, with the nomination of Ballou, the Western District of Virginia, which has never had a person of color serve as a judge, will have to wait even longer for one.