Margaret P. Spencer, who retired last year after a long career as a Richmond judge, has now set her sights on advancements in drug treatment courts. This year, she has trained drug court professionals in Virginia, Wisconsin, Illinois, Arkansas, Indiana, New Mexico and Arizona.

"Drug treatment courts are a proven strategy within the judicial system that combines judicial monitoring and effective treatment to compel drug-using, nonviolent offenders to change their lives," Spencer said by email.

She has trained personnel for new courts and provided technical assistance to existing ones "so they can continue their work in reducing substance abuse and recidivism, and saving taxpayer dollars."

Spencer formally retired as a Richmond judge in September 2014. She was named to the General District Court bench in 1994 and became a Circuit Court judge in 1998. She previously taught at the College of William and Mary law school and served as an assistant attorney general in Virginia and assistant U.S. attorney in Washington.

Spencer, whose husband, James, is a prominent U.S. District Court judge, now teaches advanced evidence courses for state and federal judges.

She has long held a leadership role for the Richmond Adult Drug Treatment Court, and this year, she served as a consultant with the National Association of Drug Court Professionals.

"Drug courts do more than reduce drug and alcohol abuse, improve family relationships, decrease unemployment rates and raise incomes," Spencer said. "These courts reduce crime by up to 40 percent, and the drop lasts up to 14 years."

Richmond Commonwealth's Attorney Michael N. Herring and Sheriff C.T. Woody are among city leaders who have advocated justice system reforms, including fewer felony convictions and more rehabilitation opportunities for nonviolent offenders.

Said Spencer: "I am honored to have a small role, this year, in the collective effort to make a positive difference in the quality of our lives by working in Virginia and throughout the country with drug treatment courts - the most successful response to nonviolent crime and addiction in our nation’s history."


A small moment in life with a big impact

After my first day at the University of Virginia School of Law, I called my mother. She was a high school teacher and asked about my classes. I told her I only had two classes that day, and all my female classmates were white and all my African-American classmates were male. I told her I felt "different" and "strange." She told me I’d probably face a lot of differences at U.Va. and in life after U.Va., but there was nothing strange about being different. She said I should work hard, do my best, make her proud, and let God take care of everything else. I’ve followed that advice all my life.

Favorite book

"Roots: The Saga of an American Family," by Alex Haley. This book is an eloquent testimonial about the human spirit. It chronicles the lives of seven generations of African-Americans, describing their African culture, family traditions and struggles to retain their African identity and human dignity while suffering through slavery and racism. It created a dialogue about the roots and realities of racism and led to an interest in African-American genealogy.

Alternate profession or course of study

I’d choose social work. I was a sociology major at Howard University and, during my senior year, was admitted to Howard’s School of Social Work master of social work degree program. I wanted to "save the world"! However, I helped a friend study for the Law School Admission Test, which was offered free on campus, and decided to take the test with her. The rest is history!

Role model

My parents, Moses and Margaret Poles. They had an unselfish devotion to family and to God, and gave me the gift of profound love. In our home there was an abundance of understanding, patience, support, encouragement, strength, faith, trust and - most importantly - love.

Something you’d like to do

Speak fluent Spanish and French.

Something that might surprise others

I am shy.

Proudest accomplishment

I’m particularly proud of two accomplishments: (1) becoming a mother after a very difficult pregnancy and, with my husband, raising our phenomenal son, Stephen; and (2) my role in training drug treatment court professionals.

Favorite thing about Richmond region

The Richmond region has Southern hospitality and charm, many cultural and recreational opportunities, and is convenient to Charlottesville, Williamsburg, Virginia Beach and Washington.


Position: drug court advocate, retired Richmond judge

Born/hometown: 1948 in Kenbridge (raised in King William County)

Colleges: Howard University (bachelor's degree), University of Virginia (law degree)

Family: husband James, son Stephen, stepdaughter Kristi Lee, stepson Benjamin

(804) 649-6391

Twitter: @ShulleetaRTD

Commenting is limited to Times-Dispatch subscribers. To sign up, click here.
If you’re already a subscriber and need to activate your access or log in, click here.

Load comments

You must be a full digital subscriber to read this article You must be a digital subscriber to view this article.