Longtime Arlington attorney William Murray has influenced the community positively not only through legal work and athletic endeavors, but his personal ethics as well, said those honoring him Nov. 15 at the Arlington Bar Foundation’s annual William L. Winston Award Luncheon.
Murray has practiced the profession of law at the highest level with devotion and integrity, attorney William Dolan said at the event, held at Washington Golf & Country Club.
“In the world we live in today, quiet competence, unquestioned judgment and integrity [are] just not that common outside of Arlington,” he said.
When Murray took over the books days after joining his law firm, made them better “directly,” Dolan said. Working in a small firm lets one witness partners’ capabilities and values up close, Dolan said.
“When things are tight, who shows up? When there are close calls, where does the integrity show up?” he asked. “The great challenge of our lifetime in the profession of law, even in Arlington, has been the stress between business and the professional. This community of lawyers somehow has maintained the professional, even if it cost business, and Bill Murray was a leader, and is a leader, in that.”
Murray, who in 1988 co-founded what now is the firm of Manning, Murray, Barnett & Baxter, described the award as “icing on the cake” for his nearly 50-year career in Arlington. He thanked the award’s namesake for his influence, saying then-Circuit Court Chief Judge Winston was welcoming to young lawyers.
“He was happy to give advice on anything, he was happy to discuss baseball with you,” Murray said. “He was just such a down-to-Earth person and you just felt so relaxed in his presence.”
An Arlington resident since 1954, Murray graduated from Washington-Lee High School in 1966 and earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Randolph-Macon College in 1970. The Vietnam War was raging then, and because Murray did not wish to be drafted into the military as an enlisted man, he applied for and was accepted into the U.S. Navy’s Officer Candidate School.
He also on a lark took the LSAT exam to possibly attend law school. The test’s questions then all revolved around logic, which were a cinch for a math major, he said.
When the government held a draft lottery in 1970, Murray’s number was 300, indicating that military service was a remote possibility. He ended up attending Marshall-Wythe School of Law at the College of William and Mary and paid tuition of only $330 per semester.
After graduating from law school in 1973, Murray and future noted lawyer Martin “Art” Walsh were courted by a law firm in Northern Virginia. Murray had been slated to do land-use law and Walsh to focus on trusts and estates, but because Walsh was ill on the interview day, they ended up switching – and later excelling in – those law specialties, said Arlington Circuit Court Clerk Paul Ferguson.
“It’s sort of a lesson to those who are up-and-coming lawyers,” said Ferguson, who chairs the Arlington Bar Foundation. “Wherever you start your career, that might be where you finish and you might be at the top of your profession.”
Ferguson read a letter from retired Circuit Court Judge Joanne Alper, who wrote that Murray’s career had been dedicated to serving the public and promoting the rule of law.
Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court Judge George Varoutsos noted he and Murray had grown up together in Arlington, attended rival high schools and taken the bar exam in 1973. Murray was – and is – a great athlete and still plays on a baseball team, despite two knee replacements, Varoutsos said.
Also on the sports front, former Arlington Circuit Court Clerk David Bell tweaked Murray because New York Yankee Derek Jeter was his favorite baseball player.
The late Judge Winston in 1989 chose Murray to serve as Arlington County Circuit Court’s commissioner of accounts, a position – which he still holds – that requires knowledge, integrity and honesty, Bell said.
Being a commissioner of accounts is a “challenging, fun job,” but auditing foreclosure accounts is not enjoyable, Murray said. “It’s the worst thing that you could have to do. But that’s how I got my foot in the door, I guess.”
Through his service on the Arlington Sports Commission and Arlington Sports Foundation, Murray also has helped ensure that county residents of all ages have adequate playing fields and paddle courts, Bell said. Murray received the 2012 Sportsman of the Year award from the Arlington Better Sports Club and was inducted into the Arlington Sports Hall of Fame in 2020.
“Arlington is such a progressive place with a philanthropic heart,” said Bell, telling Murray and his wife Pam, “Thank you for being the kind and gentle people that you are, the kind of people who always feel for the needs of others.”
Attorney Mark Cummings, an Arlington Bar Foundation board member, read a note from last year’s Winston Award recipient, Virginia Supreme Court Justice Charles Russell. Murray’s service to the Arlington community and legal community, including at the state level, is “widely known and greatly respected,” Russell wrote.