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Federal Judge Norman K. Moon marks a half-century behind the bench

Monday marked 50 years to the day since U.S. District Court Judge Norman K. Moon began serving as a judge in Lynchburg.

Moon, a Lynchburg native and 1955 graduate of E.C. Glass High School, has served as a judge of the federal court’s Western District of Virginia since November 1997. In 1985, he began serving on the then-newly formed Court of Appeals of Virginia and prior to that was a Lynchburg Circuit Court judge from 1974 to 1984.

In a recent interview at his office in the federal courthouse with a view of downtown Lynchburg, Moon said he knew he wanted to be in the legal profession since he was a teenager.

“I learned from an early age the benefit of the rule of law,” the 87-year-old jurist said.

He said being the second child, he often resented not getting what his older brother, Aubrey R. Moon Jr., had and he learned to argue his case.

“I always wanted to be treated fairly in accordance with the precedent that previously had been set,” the judge said with a smile in recalling growing up near Lynchburg College, now the University of Virginia, where his now-deceased older brother worked as a teacher and coach and has a field named after him.

While at E.C. Glass, Moon recalls thinking how terrible it would be to live under the “arbitrary” rules of others in unjust situations and pondered the legal recourse. In high school, he was introduced to Judge Alfred Barksdale, a federal judge appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1942, and whose daughter was Moon’s debate partner.

Barksdale critiqued their debate presentation practicing and made a lasting impression on Moon. “I got to sort of admire him,” Moon said.

Another influence on his career choice was the 1951 film “Quo Vidas” set in ancient Rome during the final years of Emperor Nero’s reign. The film’s main theme is the Roman Empire’s conflict with Christianity and persecution of Christians.

“I remember it really affected me, the part about how horrible it was to have this creature who was the emperor who made life or death [decisions],” Moon said. “I think that was a big thing — and history was always important, my favorite subject. I just think the rule of law is probably what holds everything together with a democracy.”

Upon graduation, Moon headed north and received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia in 1959 and a law degree three years later from the University of Virginia Law School. In 1988, he received a judicial degree from the university and was a visiting lecturer to the law school, teaching a trail advocacy seminar there from 1975 to 1998.

In June 1962, Moon began his Lynchburg law practice with the firm of Williams, Robertson and Sackett. In January 1963, he began a two-year stint in the U.S. Army in Germany and returned to the law firm where he later became a partner.

Moon regularly practiced law in federal and state courts from 1965 to 1974, working a variety of civil litigation, some criminal cases, products liability litigation, women’s compensation claims and employment cases and he often accepted appointment in representing indigent defendants.

“I enjoyed the people and the work,” Moon said.

When he started his 10-year stint as a judge in the 24th Judicial District, the Watergate scandal was at the forefront nationally and President Richard Nixon was four months shy of resigning. The district includes the city of Lynchburg and counties of Amherst, Bedford, Campbell and Appomattox.

Moon served as its chief judge from 1982 to 1984 before joining the newly created Virginia Court of Appeals that was created in large part to lessen the Virginia Supreme Court’s workload. As chief judge of the Court of Appeals, he served as a member of the Judicial Council and on the Commission on Family Violence Prevention, and at the time of his appointment to the federal court was president-elect of the National Council of Chief Judges.

“I think always in the back of my mind, probably since I first met Judge Barksdale …I became aware of the federal court and when I start practicing, I enjoyed practicing in federal court,” Moon said. “I kept my eye on the position and when it came up I was quick to make myself available for the job.”

In the fall of 1997, Moon was sworn in as the first federal judge from Lynchburg since 1940 and succeeded Judge Jackson Kizer. A crowd of hundreds, including the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, packed the former federal courthouse on Main Street in downtown Lynchburg to mark Moon’s investiture.

On that occasion, Moon thanked then-U.S. senators Charles Robb and John Warner, state Del. Lacey Putney, Gov. George Allen and state Attorney General Richard Cullen for the speed in which the nomination sailed through the Republican-controlled Congress during President Bill Clinton’s second term. Moon went from nominee to appointee in 30 days.

According to The News & Advance archives, an aide to Robb said at the investiture ceremony: “I called the White House Counsel’s office and asked why the nomination had gone through so easily and they said two words: ‘good nominee.’”

William Petty, then-Lynchburg Commonwealth’s Attorney, also said during the swearing-in ceremony Moon was an outstanding trial lawyer and judge. “He was my favorite judge that I’ve practiced before,” Petty said.

Then-Del. Preston Bryant, who represented Lynchburg, praised Moon’s legal accomplishments and character during the ceremony. “What I can testify too is that he’s a wonderful human being and a leader in the community,” Bryant said at the time of Moon’s swearing-in.

Moon said he’s enjoyed serving on the federal bench and it is satisfying to go home at the end of the day knowing he did a good job. He also refrained from speaking at certain times, adding 99% of what he regrets is things he’s said.

“When you go through a big case you want to do it well so it doesn’t have to be done over,” Moon said.

He said the Sines-Kessler case is among the most high-profile cases he presided over in Charlottesville in recent years. The civil lawsuit against various organizers, promoters and participants of the Unite the Right Rally, an August 2017 white supremacist gathering in Charlottesville that led to violence that captured national attention.

The trial from October to November 2021 led to a jury reaching a mixed verdict in which various defendants were found liable on claims of civil conspiracy and race-based harassment or violence and altogether awarded plaintiffs more than $25 million in punitive and compensatory damages, though Moon later reduced it.

Moon said the lawsuit included roughly two-dozen defendants, nine plaintiffs and 54 lawyers. “It was a very complicated case,” he said.

For years, Moon has been on senior status, a form of semi-retirement in which a federal judge must be at least 65 years old, served at least 10 years and the sum of the judge’s age and years of service must be at least 80 years.

He said he feels he did a good job getting the U.S. Department of General Services to build a new federal courthouse, which opened in 2005. If parties lost a case in his courtroom, Moon said he has always wanted them to leave with the feeling they were fairly treated.

“You want it to be fair and you want them to feel like they had the opportunity to tell their side of the story and know they were listened to,” the judge said.

He and his wife, Barbara, have a son, Norman Jr., and two grandchildren. His 88th birthday is the eve of the presidential election on Nov. 4.

“A lot of that I attribute to my genes,” Moon said of his longevity on the bench, adding his mother was nearly 100 when she died and his dad lived to age 91. “That’s one of the advantages of being on a federal court … We have life tenure.”

When asked what keeps him going after half a century as a judge, he said: “Well, you’ve got to be somewhere.”

“I come to work every day and I think that’s the better life for me,” Moon said.

A University of Virginia sports fan, he has season tickets for basketball and football. He recalls with fondness the euphoria of the Cavaliers’ basketball team winning the national championship in 2019 but noted hardships on the gridiron where he said with a laugh he is not firmly confident of a win unless the football team has a 20-point lead or so with a minute left.

A celebratory scene he often presides over are naturalization ceremonies to swear in new U.S. citizens. He welcomed the latest group of citizens who legally immigrated at an April 12 ceremony at Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest in Bedford County.

“They are enjoyable because the people are so excited about becoming citizens,” Moon said. “They’re just so happy. They have something to add … We’re lucky they keep coming.”


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