FACETIME- Cheryl's whirl: Multi-tasking mom approaches the bench
The celebration phase is over. Congratulatory flowers still sit on her desk, but Cheryl Higgins really doesn't have time to stop and smell the roses. "I've hit that nervousness mode," says she, amid boxes and half-empty bookshelves in her office.
Since she was appointed Albemarle Circuit Court judge on February 21, in what some have seen as a stunning upset over Commonwealth's Attorney Jim Camblos, Higgins has done what any woman with a full-time job and three children would have to do: schedule the end of one life as a defense attorney and get ready to move to her new life a block away on Court Square.
That means tidying up loose ends by March 23 at St. John, Bowling and Lawrence, the Park Street law firm where she's a partner, going to judge school March 26, and beginning her term on the bench that starts April 1– in between taking her daughters to violin and ballet lessons and swim team practice.
Higgins, 45, didn't set out to be a lawyer, much less a judge. "When I was little, I wanted to be a psychologist," she says. In college, she liked an economics class, too. "The professor said, 'You might consider law.'"
She spent 10 years working as a prosecutor before switching sides. "I didn't have children when I was a prosecutor," she explains. And when you have a whole day of cases scheduled as a prosecutor, "You can't just take off if your daughter is a grape in Aesop's Fables."
The flexibility she had as a defense attorney is about to change. "I knew when I took this job," says Judge Higgins, 'it wouldn't be fair if I said, 'I cannot take that case because my daughter has violin that day.'"
Her husband's days off are during the week, so that should help. "I don't feel an added responsibility because I'm a woman, but I feel a ton of responsibility because of the nature of the position," she says.
She admits she's concerned about the stress level of her new job. "I didn't want to leave my practice as a happy lawyer to be a stressed-out judge," says Higgins. She reports sage words from someone familiar with judges: "The job will be only as stressful as you make it."
Higgins is already thinking about how to make her courtroom more efficient: a copier in court, computers for the clerks and judge, and two bailiffs. If she had a magic wand, Albemarle would have a magnometer, the security device manned by a deputy that virtually every other circuit court in this district has.
Already, Higgins has learned that judicial humility begins at home. On the day she found out she was going to be a judge, she floated on air to the nearby Village School before the news hit the press, to tell two of her daughters.
As she walked away, she heard her 11-year-old tell a friend what was going on, "Oh, my mom got a job she wanted."
PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO