The top nonjudicial administrator of the Richmond-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is retiring effective May 31 after more than a record 45 years on the job.
Samuel W. Phillips gave notice to Chief Judge Roger L. Gregory in a letter Thursday. Prior to his May 1, 1972 appointment as the court’s chief executive, he was the clerk for the court of appeals from 1968 to 1972 and an assistant U.S. attorney from 1962 to 1968.
“It is fair to say that I have been hanging my hat in the rooms of these courthouses for more than 55 years,” he wrote. He added that he “enjoyed the distinction of being the first person in the country appointed as Circuit Executive and the longest serving Circuit Executive in the Judiciary.”
Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law and an expert on the court, said, “It’s really incredibly long service in a really important job.”
Tobias said the judges of the court may form a committee and do a national search for a replacement.
Since relatively few cases make it to the U.S. Supreme Court, the 4th Circuit is essentially the court of last resort for Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina and South Carolina. The court has 15 active and two senior judges.
The 4th Circuit also covers the federal judges, magistrate judges and bankruptcy judges in nine districts in its five states and has more than 100 courthouses and office spaces.
Among other things the position involves administering the court’s personnel, budget, accounting and property control systems as well as conducting studies and making recommendations and reports to the chief judge, the circuit council, and the judicial conference. The administrator also collects and compiles statistical data and serves as liaison to the marshals’ office, state and local bar associations, the media and civic groups.
The court said Phillips was an infantryman in the U.S. Army Reserve and later retired as a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General Corps. He received his undergraduate and law degrees from William and Mary.
His age was not available from the court Thursday, although non-official records list him as 89.
Phillips closed his letter writing, “The words do not exist to adequately describe the passion that I have for our Court, our Circuit, and our third branch of government and the joy that I have had to be a participant in this mission to serve its citizens, but my first and only love has always been my Eleanor, and it is time to be with her.”