May 17, 2023

Justice Cleo E. Powell Receives 2023 Clarence M. Dunnaville Jr. Award

The Honorable Cleo Elaine Powell, justice of the Supreme Court of Virginia, has been awarded the Clarence M. Dunnaville Jr. Achievement Award, sponsored by the Diversity Conference of the Virginia State Bar. The award honors a lawyer who exemplifies “…the conference’s goal of fostering, encouraging, and facilitating diversity and inclusion in the bar, the judiciary, and the legal profession.”

 In 2011, Justice Powell made history in the Commonwealth when she was appointed by then-Governor Tim Kaine and elected by the General Assembly as the first and only African American woman to serve on Virginia’s highest court in its 244-year history.

Justice Cleo E. Powell portrait Justice Powell is noted for being the only member of the Court who has served at every level of the Virginia judiciary, beginning as a general district and circuit judge in Chesterfield County before rising to the Virginia Court of Appeals in 2008. In each of her judicial roles, Justice Powell has been the first African American woman to hold the position. Because of her dedication to improving the profession, Chief Justice S. Bernard Goodwyn called Justice Powell “the consummate judicial servant leader” in a 2022 interview.
In their unanimous nomination, the leadership of the Diversity Conference, including Chair Alicia R. Johnson, Chair-Elect Candace A. Blydenburgh, Board Member Brian T. Wesley, and Board Member Daniel P. Frankl, noted: “Justice Powell embodies the perseverance and dedication to diversity, and the legal profession that we honor when recognizing those who paved the way for others to follow. Despite her demanding career, Justice Powell is never too busy to mentor students, speak at bar events for new judges or educational events for lawyers, serve as a mentor to young lawyers, or spearhead the Rule of Law Day Program which teaches students about the rule of law and legal profession. She stands alone in Virginia history as the only African American woman to climb from the district court to the Supreme Court of Virginia, and she has done so through her unwavering integrity, dedication, and intellect.”

A native of rural Brunswick County, Justice Powell was an Echols Scholar and a University Honor Award recipient at UVA, graduating with distinction with a degree in American Government before graduating from the University of Virginia School of Law in 1982. She began her legal career in private practice at Hunton & Williams (now Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP). Justice Powell later worked as an assistant attorney general and as a corporate counsel for Virginia Power (now Dominion Energy) before joining the bench as a general district court judge in 1993. This year marks her 30th year of serving the people of Virginia as a judge in the Commonwealth.


The award, named for Clarence Dunnaville, the noted Virginia attorney, civil rights pioneer, legal reformer, and author, will be presented by the Diversity Conference at the Annual Meeting in Virginia Beach on June 16.