For The Record

Photograph by Stephen Voss

As a young man, Judge Dontaè Bugg, L’06, considered many potential paths for his future. Growing up in Newport News, Virginia, he had always done well academically, and as company commander of his high school’s ROTC program and state hurdles champion his senior year, he entertained thoughts of attending the U.S. Naval Academy or embarking upon a professional track and field career.

Then there were the ideas held by Bugg’s grandmother, who raised him. While she assured him that he could be anything he wanted, she suggested he consider being a lawyer or foot doctor — the latter option inspired, he laughs, by a skilled and handsome podiatrist she admired.

After enrolling at the University of Maryland on a combined academic and athletic scholarship, Bugg took the LSAT with the intention of becoming a sports agent. He hadn’t considered Richmond Law until he saw a bumper sticker while driving on I-64. During his first visit to the school, he sat in on a constitutional law course and felt comfortable enough to participate.

Later, he’d hear stories from colleagues about law schools where competitive and cutthroat students would intentionally misplace library books. Richmond Law, on the other hand, was the only school to call him directly when he’d been accepted, and Bugg recalls professors who taught him how to “think like a lawyer” and balance zealous advocacy with direct and professional practice.

Bugg worked in private practice after graduation. In 2010, he opened a criminal defense and domestic relations firm in northern Virginia. When he began to ponder service as a judge, the circuit courts appealed to him.

“My preference was to be in circuit court because of all my jury trial experience and the diversity of cases that you see there,” he said.

Bugg served as a substitute judge for the General District Court and Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court in Fairfax County, Virginia, before taking the bench in Fairfax Circuit Court in 2019.

The first African American judge appointed in the county in 27 years, Bugg feels his role’s weight. “The law impacts or touches everybody,” he said. “The justice system is only as good as the faith that the people have in it.”

As someone who has endured the insult of being presumed to be a defendant in courtrooms, rather than an attorney, diversity — of perspectives, experiences, and backgrounds — is an area in which he sees room for improvement in the legal profession as a whole.

“There are times when it is really reaffirmed to me that it’s important to have folks like myself that came from my background, have my life experience, and have that diverse perspective involved in the justice system,” Bugg said, “whether it’s representing private individuals or being on the bench.”