Legislators Scheduled to Appoint Judges Today

July 29th, 2011 by Amber Lester

York-Poquoson Circuit Court’s vacant judge seat might be filled today, when lawmakers return to Richmond to vote on judicial appointments.

The legislators will vote one week after Gov. Bob McDonnell criticized the General Assembly’s failure to agree in a letter addressed to House Speaker Bill Howell and Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw. In his letter, McDonnell encouraged the legislators to work together to complete both redistricting and judicial appointments, particularly in the Supreme Court, which has two vacancies. McDonnell had told the legislators he was prepared to make the appointments himself if the GA could not fulfill its duty.

Sen. Fred Quayle, R-Suffolk, told Virginia Statehouse News that the lawmakers have agreed to the Supreme Court candidates, but they have not decided on the candidates for the lower court vacancies. That’s what delayed an appointment in the York-Poquoson Circuit Court, where the judgeship has been vacant since the 2008 death of former Judge N. Prentis Smiley. The delegation was able to agree on the nomination of York Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court Judge Richard AtLee, but could not agree on whether Sandy Conyers or Sid Insley should be appointed to replace him. Sen. Tommy Norment and Del. Brenda Pogge did not respond Thursday to confirm whether they had agreed on nominations. Read more about the issue here.

The full House and the Senate are expected to vote only on the judges Friday. But lawmakers are not expected to address the unfinished business of congressional redistricting, said Delegate Ward Armstrong, D-Henry, the House minority leader.

The Legislature chooses Supreme Court, Appeals Court, Circuit Court, General District Court and Juvenile and Domestic Relation Court judges. If the Legislature doesn’t fill vacancies upon adjournment, the governor can fill the openings for certain courts. But the Legislature must affirm those appointments during the following session.

Armstrong said Democrats will choose one candidate for the Supreme Court and have agreed that Republicans will choose the second Supreme Court candidate, and two replacements to take those candidates’ seats.

Judge Cleo Powell on the state’s Court of Appeals is likely to be the Democrats’ pick for the high court, Armstrong said.

“I don’t think the Friday session is going to take a long time. I don’t think there is any disagreement,” Armstrong said of the Supreme Court nominees from both sides.

State Delegate Rob Bell, R-Albemarle, who serves on the House Courts Committee, said the Republican leadership is expected to decide on its final nominees by Friday.

The two Supreme Court vacancies were created in February, when former justices Leroy Hassell Sr. passed away and Lawrence Koontz Jr. retired. The state’s highest court, which must have seven judges, has relied on semi-retired senior judges to hear cases and write opinions, but the number of cases heard has dropped this year, creating a backlog.

Amanda Iacone of Virginia Statehouse News contributed to this report.

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