Three Fairfax County seats head ’10 vacanciesby Alan CooperDolan Media Newswires
RICHMOND, VA -- The General Assembly will have at least 16 judicial vacancies – including three circuit judgeships from Fairfax County – to fill during the 2010 session.
Most of the vacancies will be created by retirement, many of them because a judge has reached the mandatory retirement age of 70, but that’s not the case with the Fairfax judges, Gaylord L. Finch Jr., Stanley P. Klein and Michael P. McWeeny.
Finch reached an agreement with Northern Virginia legislators earlier this year to step down at the end of the year if he was appointed to another term. Litigants who were upset because they believed Finch had handled their claims in a cursory manner had pressed their delegation to oust him.
Both can receive their full judicial pensions so long as they do no courtroom work.
Not surprisingly, with one-fifth of the Fairfax circuit bench turning over in a single year, the seats have attracted great interest from potential candidates.
Judicial screening committees for Northern Virginia bar groups have interviewed 13 candidates for the Fairfax judgeships, including Fairfax General District Judges Michael J. Cassidy and Lorraine Nordlund.
The other candidates are Penney Sue Azcarate, David Bernhard, Grace Burke Carroll, William P. Daly Jr., Michael F. Devine, Brian N. Hirsch, Brett A. Kassabian, August W. Steinhilber III, Alicia L. Summers, John M. Tran and Robert Edward Worst.
Judicial selection works differently in Fairfax, compared to other regions of the state. The area’s bar groups are asked for their endorsements and input. Those endorsements are passed on to the legislators representing Fairfax. Those delegates and senators operate in a bipartisan fashion. All members of the legislative delegation meet to interview candidates, with each member of the delegation getting one vote. Candidates who receive a majority vote of the delegation get the support of the entire delegation for election by the legislature.
The bar endorsement process is already under way.
Electronic ballots have been sent to Fairfax Bar Association members, and the deadline for responding is this Friday, Dec. 11, at noon.
Under the FBA procedures, members received background information on the candidates and a rating for each candidate of highly recommended, recommended or qualified. Each member was asked to vote “endorsed,” “not endorsed” or “no opinion.”
The FBA screening committee highly recommended Cassidy, Daly, Devin and Kassabian and recommended Azcarate. It found all the other candidates to be qualified.
The Northern Virginia chapter of the Virginia Women Attorneys Association, the Hispanic Bar Association of Virginia, the Asian Pacific American Bar Association and the Northern Virginia Black Attorneys Association also interviewed candidates.
NOVABAA highly recommended Kassabian and Tran for the seats and recommended Berenhard, Daly, Devine, Hirsch and Nordlund.
APABA highly recommended Daly, Kassabian and Tran and recommended Bernhard, Devine, Hirsch and Steinhilber.
HBA-VA highly recommended Bernhard, Devine, Kassabian and Tran and recommended Azcarate, Cassidy, Daly and Hirsch. All three groups found all the candidates to be qualified.
Dennis Somech of HBA-VA said, “This was a very strong group of candidates, all either leading lights in their fields or judges with proven track records, making these evaluations particularly difficult.”
The VWAA chapter had not completed their endorsement procedures by press time.
Judges seeking reappointment are scheduled to appear Dec. 17 before a joint session of the House and Senate Courts of Justice committees.
Around the state
In addition to the three Fairfax circuit judgeships, other circuit judges who will retire include A. Joseph Canada Jr. of Virginia Beach, Westbrook J. Parker of Southampton County, Thomas V. Warren of Powhatan County, Theodore J. Markow of Richmond and J. Leyburn Mosby Jr. of Lynchburg.
The legislature will try again to fill the vacancy in Gloucester County created by the death last year of Judge N. Prentis Smiley Jr. The impasse in replacing Smiley occurred because two legislators from the area, Del. Thomas D. Gear and Sen. Thomas K. Norment, both Republicans, clashed over a replacement for Smiley.
With no assurance that any appointment he made would be elected to a full term, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine did not fill the seat after the legislature was unable to do so.
General District seats
General district judges who will leave the bench include Virginia L. Cochran of Virginia Beach, Kenneth Nelson Nye of the 6th Judicial District, Thomas O. Jones of Richmond and Charles B. Foley of the 20th Judicial District.
The legislature was unable to fill the seat vacated last year by Judge A. Lee McGratty of the 25the District, and circuit judges did not fill the seat after legislators were unable to agree on a successor.
Juvenile and Domestic Relations District judges who will leave include James E. Hume of the 11th District and Sharon B. Will of Henrico County. A seat in the 27th District awaits a full-time replacement for Judge M. Keith Blankenship, who resigned last year after he was charged with traffic misdemeanors in separate incidents.
Circuit judges appointed Harriet D. Dorsey to fill the seat until the 2010 session.