All of the local papers ran stories this week about Judge Turk's passing and the fond memories that lawyers and judges had of Judge Turk's unique and warm sense of justice. Judge Turk, who was appointed by Richard Nixon, served as a federal judge in the Western District of Virginia for 41 years before passing away Sunday evening at age 91. The News and Advance ran a story with many colorful anecdotes of Judge Turk's merciful rulings and sentencings in criminal cases.
One of his most famous civil cases was a prison literature case in which Judge Turk struck down a policy that denied inmates access to novels "Ulysses" by James Joyce and "Lady Chatterley's Lover" by D.H. Lawrence, which had been banned because of their sexually explicit passages. He also presided over the 1981 libel case Jerry Falwell brought against Larry Flynt of Hustler magazine.
Before becoming a judge, Turk practiced law at the Radford firm of Dalton, Poff and Turk--a firm with three very famous names in the Western District of Virginia. Ted Dalton, known as Mr. Republican, ran unsuccessfully for Governor of Virginia when the Byrd machine still dominated Virginia politics. Dalton later was appointed to the federal bench. His nephew and adopted son, John Dalton, was elected Governor of Virginia in 1977.
Turk's other law-partner Richard Poff served in the House of Representatives for many years, was the author of the 25th Amendment to the United States Constitution, and was considered for the Supreme Court, prior to Nixon's appointment of fellow Virginian Lewis Powell. Poff went on to serve on the Virginia Supreme Court. The federal courthouse in Roanoke, where Judge Turk presided for so many years, was named for Poff.
This legacy continues after Judge Turk's death. His former law clerk, Glen Conrad, was appointed to replace Judge Turk as a federal judge when he took senior status in 2003. Judge Turk has two sons who are prominent in the legal community in Southwest Virginia: Jimmy Turk, a high-profile defense attorney in Montgomery County; and Bobby Turk, a Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge. There are countless members of the legal community in Southwest Virginia that feel a connection to and fondness towards Judge Turk.
Current United States Attorney Timothy J. Heaphy said in a statement: "[Judge Turk's] tradition of shaking hands with defendants after their cases concluded was a perfect manifestation of his essential humanity and his ability to recognize the good in all people, regardless of circumstance."