(Posted December 20, 2021) The Supreme Court of Virginia has announced that Chief Justice Don Lemons will leave the center chair at the end of this month. The announcement doesn’t say that he’s leaving the court; he’s only stepping down as chief justice. If I’m reading the announcement right, and he’ll stay on the court, he’ll take the unprecedented step of being the first person ever to leave the chief’s seat and move to the second-most-senior position on the court.

The chief took the center seat in January 2015 with the retirement of his predecessor, Chief Justice Cynthia Kinser. The court’s custom has been to elect chief justices to four-year terms, with a norm of two terms. This announcement will cap his tenure at seven years.

The court has announced the election of Justice Bernard Goodwyn as the new chief justice, effective January 1, 2022. Justice Goodwyn is currently second in seniority. One thing that I’ll be listening for is how the new chief justice will welcome new admittees to the bar of the court during swearing-in ceremonies. The late Chief Justice Leroy Hassell encouraged them to perform pro bono service; Chief Justice Lemons has emphasized the importance of professionalism. This is one way that each chief can put his or her own flair into a ceremonial occasion.