A Bedford County assistant district attorney is seeking nomination to become judge of the Court of Common Pleas.
Assistant District Attorney Dwight Diehl announced his candidacy on Friday, saying his time spent in various legal roles within the Bedford County courthouse has prepared him for the position.
“I just want to continue serving the citizens of Bedford County and I think the next step is judge,” he said.
Diehl, 57, is seeking the seat currently held by President Judge Thomas Ling, who will not run for re-election.
“This is a decision I made recently, but it’s something I’ve been considering for probably two years,” Diehl said about his candidacy. “I put a lot of thought into it.”
Diehl, a registered Republican, said the role of judge is not a matter of political affiliation and that he will seek the nomination for both parties.
“It’s vital that any elected official represent the entire county, Republican or Democrat,” he said. “But I feel it’s most important for a judge to be impartial.”
Diehl has served as an assistant district attorney under District Attorney Lesley Childers-Potts since May, when he was brought into the office in the aftermath of the resignation of former-District Attorney Bill Higgins.
But Diehl’s time working in the courthouse dates back to the early 1990s, when he served eight years as an assistant district attorney while Ling was DA.
Diehl was elected as district attorney in 1999 and served one term until 2004. He entered private practice after falling short in his bid for re-election.
In 2008, Diehl was appointed by Ling to work in domestic relations as hearing officer for court conferences, which requires him to oversee hearings of spousal and child support.
“I make a recommendation for child support or spousal support, and that recommendation then goes to Judge Ling, who reviews it and makes it a court order,” Diehl said.
He held the post for more than a decade until Friday, when he resigned to announce his bid for judge.
“With that being a judicial-appointed position, I couldn’t run for a political position while I still worked there,” he said.
Diehl noted he also served as an assistant public defender for about a six-month period in the past, and has been appointed by the court to serve as master in land and property disputes. He said he also has worked closely with agencies like Your Safe Haven and Children and Youth through his career.
Diehl said he anticipates the newly-elected judge to take over Ling’s role of presiding over the family court dockets, which includes cases involving custody, child and spousal support, and divorces. Ling also currently presides over juvenile criminal cases.
Judge Travis Livengood, who will become the county’s president judge, presides over criminal court dockets.
Diehl said he believes he is well versed in family law from his time dealing with divorces and support cases in private practice, as well as his role in domestic relations. He said it is important for judges to remain impartial for all citizens entering the courtroom.
“You have the ability to influence — especially on the family law side — individual families the most,” he said. “Who to award custody of a child to, how to settle a divorce. I view a judge as absolutely having to be more impartial than just about any other elected official.”
Diehl said the family court has changed greatly since he began his career in law.
“It’s a lot more complicated,” he said, noting custody cases in particular have grown more complex over the years.
“When I started in the 90s, basically you never heard of a thing called grandparents rights,” he said. “Now it seems grandparents have almost equal rights to file for custody of a child. It’s not uncommon when you see a custody hearing going on in Courtroom 2 to see three or four tables with attorneys.”
Diehl graduated from Bedford High School in 1979 and earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Penn State University. He began working as a patent examiner for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in 1983. Five years later he started attending the George Mason School of Law at night to earn his law degree while working in the patent office.
Diehl has been married to his wife, Rose, since 1982. They have four children and four grandchildren.
Bedford Attorney Brandi Hershey is also seeking the nomination for judge.
Diehl said he will attend candidates forums and will schedule meetings throughout the county to speak to residents.
The primary election is May 21.