By Carol Vaughn
The first woman to be appointed a presiding judge on the Eastern Shore of Virginia will take the oath of office in April.
“I am honored; I am humbled by it, and I am grateful for the opportunity. I’m thrilled,” said Cela Burge.
The General Assembly elected Burge to a six-year term as Juvenile and Domestic Relations judge for Judicial District 2-A, beginning April 16.
Burge, 62, has been Accomack County’s attorney for the past four years, after a career path that included a private law practice in Northampton County and serving as Cape Charles town manager from 1998 to 2005.
Burge also represented several towns on the Shore as attorney.
Additionally, she serves on the Cape Charles town council, from which she will resign before beginning her term as judge.
Burge, a West Virginia native, moved to Cape Charles in 1998 with her husband, John Burdiss, after they vacationed on the Shore and fell in love with it.
They have four adult children and 12 grandchildren.
Before becoming an attorney, Burge — who earned a bachelor’s degree in community development and regional planning from Concord College and was certified by the American Institute of Certified Planners — worked in community development and planning.
While she was Cape Charles’ town manager, Burge and Burdiss both enrolled in law school at Regent University on a part-time basis, traveling to Virginia Beach several times a week.
It was the fulfillment of a career aspiration she had had since elementary school.
After graduating in 2005, Burge started practicing law and became a partner in Bert Turner’s Eastville law firm.
It was during that period Judge Croxton Gordon, who recently retired as Juvenile and Domestic Relations judge, asked her about serving as guardian ad litem, a guardian appointed by the court to act on behalf of a minor or incompetent person.
She took the required training and subsequently was involved in many cases in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations court, including cases involving custody, visitation, truancy, foster care, and abuse and neglect.
“I really liked it. It’s not for everybody, but I found it to be perhaps the most meaningful work I have ever done,” Burge said.
“I’ve liked every job I’ve had…but the difference in the work that I had in that court was that it really matters — it matters to the kids, it matters to the families, it matters to our community in general,” she said.
Gordon was a role model.
“I admire Judge Gordon so much, and I watched him a lot, of course, with my cases and others,” Burge said, adding, “He is such a caring and compassionate judge, and a focused judge.”
Gordon appointed Burge to the court’s best practices committee, where she had the chance to learn from other professionals involved in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations court system throughout Virginia.
The committee is a program of the Virginia Supreme Court.
“That was invaluable,” she said.
For Burge, it is the law itself that is the sound foundation upon which to build.
Even as a child, she admired prominent attorneys such as Clarence Darrow, among others,
“because they really had purpose, and that appealed to me. … They wanted things to be fair for people.”
“I love the rule of law — that we have a whole society that is based on this social compact, that we all agree to live together within a certain set of rules and structure that is really good for us as a whole,” Burge said, calling the rule of law “the glue that holds all that together.”