Shenandoah County judge to retire after 26 years

The Shenandoah Valley-Herald

WOODSTOCK — A Shenandoah County judge has announced that he is retiring in 2018 after 26 years on the bench in Virginia’s 26th Judicial Circuit.

In an Oct. 19 memorandum to the Shenandoah County Bar, Judge Dennis Lee Hupp, 66, said he will retire on Aug. 1.

He announced it more than nine months in advance to give the General Assembly time to choose his replacement during its 2018 session, he said during a phone interview on Oct. 26.

Hupp has been a presiding judge in Shenandoah and Warren counties’ circuit courts since 1992. He was also a presiding judge in Rockingham County Circuit Court from 1992 to 1996.

Hupp grew up in northern Shenandoah County and graduated from Strasburg High School. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Madison College – now James Madison University – in 1973 and attended the Cumberland School of Law at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala.

Hupp started working in the office of Strasburg attorney Perry Sarver in 1977 after finishing law school, he said. In 1983, Sarver became a judge in Shenandoah County Circuit Court and Hupp was elected Commonwealth’s Attorney, serving two four-year terms in that post.

In March 1992, the General Assembly appointed Hupp to the 26th Judicial Circuit to replace retiring judge Joshua Robinson, Hupp said.

The circuit includes Rockingham, Shenandoah, Warren, Frederick, Clarke and Page counties, and the cities of Harrisonburg and Winchester.

Hupp initially served in Rockingham and Warren counties’ circuit courts. He left Rockingham to replace Sarver in Shenandoah County after Sarver retired in 1996, he said.

Hupp now works primarily in Shenandoah County, though he still tries cases in Warren County two days a month, he said.

The legislature appoints circuit court judges for eight-year terms. Hupp will be two years into his fourth term when he retires.

When asked what made him decide to retire, Hupp said only that “it’s time.”

One of his most notable Shenandoah County cases was that of capital murder suspect Claude Delmus Shafer, Jr., whom Hupp convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to 60 years in prison in October 2016.

Shafer was arrested on June 17, 2013, for stabbing 64-year-old Phyllis Henrietta Kline to death while burglarizing her home in Edinburg.

The case that stands out most in Hupp’s memory, he said, came during his four years in Rockingham County Circuit Court.

“There was a case where two teenage girls and the boyfriend of one of the girls murdered [the girls’] mother,” he said. “They almost beheaded her because she was putting them in military school the next day. The girls were 14 years old and 12 years old. The older girl was the coldest person of that age I have ever seen. It was chilling.”

Sarona Irvin, Shenandoah County’s clerk of circuit court, called Hupp’s retirement “good for him, bad for us” during a phone interview on Oct. 26.

Irvin, 51, was a deputy clerk for 24 years before being elected clerk in 2015.

“He is a man of great integrity,” she said. “He has had a lot of tough decisions, and he makes them with great care. He’s not our boss per se, but we all look up to him as an authority figure.”

Hupp plans to make himself available as a substitute judge for the 26th circuit during his retirement. He also hopes to use his new free time to travel and pursue his passion for history, particularly the Civil War.

“I want to have time to read and visit historical sites,” he said. “I’ll just take them one at a time.”

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