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Local “Court Observer” Receives Honor

Murry White, Judge Vincent A. Lilley and members of the Salem / Roanoke County Bar Association.

by Beverly Amsler

Judges come and judges go, and Murry White has seen them all.  The 97-year-old Salem resident has been watching the court system in Roanoke County and surrounding areas as a private citizen for more than 30 years.  He was recently honored by the Salem/Roanoke County Bar Association for his service.  The Association adopted a resolution and presented it to him before judges, law enforcement personnel, lawyers, and legal staff at Salem General District Court before the day’s court docket began.

His wife, Mildred “Susie” White, attended many of the legal proceedings with him before she died in 2005.  Murry White says his love of the justice system began long ago in high school civics when his teacher took the class on a field trip to the courthouse.

“And after going to court, we come back [and] she says, ‘We gonna have a mock trial here in the classroom.’  They appointed me Commonwealth’s Attorney on a murder trial.  I got a conviction on it.  So from then on I’ve been interested in the court system.”

White might even have become an attorney except for one thing – money.

“I couldn’t because when I grew up, we didn’t have money to go to school for you to do that.  When you’re my age, in September I’ll be a 98-year-old, back then, during the First Depression, [you’re] lucky if you’d get [enough to] eat.”

So White spends his days sitting in the front row, conversing with attorneys about their case, offering advice on strategy or speculating on the outcome.  He declined, however, to reveal the best advice he ever gave to an attorney.

Attorney John Koehler echoed many of the sentiments made about White during the proclamation ceremony.

“Mr. White is probably better attuned to what goes on during trial and how a trial is going than certainly many novice lawyers would be.  And even experienced lawyers can benefit from that extra set of eyes; the observation from the other side of the rail where things frequently look different than when you’re up there questioning a witness or making an argument to a jury.”

Judge Vincent A. Lilley even remarked how he felt Susie and Murry White acted like surrogate parents, especially since the judge’s father had passed away before he presented his first case as an attorney.

Murry White was a bit embarrassed by all the hoopla.  Watching hundreds, if not thousands of court trials over the years, he said by far the Jens Soering trial in Bedford was the most interesting because it was a high profile case.  He also said large speakers were placed on each side so people could hear every word that was said.

The court watcher hopes to continue being part of the judicial process for years to come.

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