Rebecca Beach Smith was named this week the new chief judge for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, becoming the first female chief judge in the district.
Smith was appointed to the federal bench in 1989 by President George H.W. Bush. She takes over the helm from U.S. District Judge James Spencer, who has served in the Eastern District since 1986.
Smith, a native of Hopewell, Va., who has judicial chambers in Norfolk, said in an interview she is honored. "My predecessors have been so outstanding as leaders," she said, "and I will try to build on their leadership." She said Spencer was "happy to pass the torch."
The court said Norfolk has not hosted a chief judge in the Eastern District for 26 years. Smith, 62, is also the first female Article III judge in Virginia.
Chief judges typically serve seven-year terms. In the Eastern District of Virginia, there are 11 district judges, six senior judges and 10 magistrate judges. There are no pending vacancies in the district after the Obama administration's successful appointment of Arenda Wright Allen to the Norfolk bench and John Gibney Jr. to the district court in Richmond.
Smith graduated first in her law school class in 1979 at the College of William and Mary Marshall-Wythe School of Law. Smith later worked at Norfolk’s Wilcox & Savage--she made partner, working in commercial litigation--before being named a magistrate judge in the Eastern District of Virginia. She served as a magistrate judge from 1985 to 1989.
Smith currently serves on the U.S. Judicial Conference ethics committee.