GOVERNOR APPOINTS JUDGE GOODWYN TO SUPREME COURT

[Posted October 10, 2007] Governor Kaine has appointed Chesapeake Circuit Court Judge S. Bernard Goodwyn to the Supreme Court, filling the vacancy created when Senior Justice Lacy announced her retirement earlier this year. Under state law, the appointment is good until 30 days after the next General Assembly session begins, although the legislature may well go along with this choice and reappoint him on a permanent basis.

Justice Goodwyn was sworn in shortly after noon today, and begins work in Richmond immediately. (As an indication of how fast things like this can move, his name is already listed on the court’s web page listing the justices, even before the echoes of his swearing-in ceremony have dissipated.) While I strongly doubt he will participate in writ panels next Wednesday (October 17), he will, I understand, sit with the full court during the November session (October 29 through November 2).

A few additional notes about this news:

This appointment brings the court back up to its full complement of seven active justices. There are also four senior justices once again (Justices Carrico, Stephenson, Russell, and now Lacy) to assist the active justices with their caseload. That matters, because the court is dealing with a hefty merits caseload right now. I perceive three main reasons for that. (A) The court granted a much higher percentage of writs in civil cases (31%, as compared with the historical range of 20-22%) during 2006 than normal, and those extra cases are taking the court longer to decide. (B) In a clear trend, the court is awarding a significantly elevated number of criminal cases from the Court of Appeals. I am accustomed to seeing something on the order of three to five criminal appeals each session. Last year I noted that in one session, the court handed down a remarkable ten decisions in criminal appeals. But the session just past, the court blew by that figure, hearing 20 criminal appeals out of the 29 cases on the argument docket. (C) Having fewer available justices led the court to cut back on the number of cases it heard in the September session, thus delaying things even further.

There is yet another appellate opening in the Virginia courts; Court of Appeals Judge Jim Benton has retired, leaving that court one judge short. The sting of that vacancy is far smaller than being one-down at the Supreme Court, because the CAV has ten judges and four senior judges right now. The governor will get to appoint Judge Benton’s replacement on the same terms as Justice Goodwyn, subject to later ratification by the legislature in the upcoming session.

The trickle-down theory applies here; Justice Goodwyn’s former chair in Chesapeake gets filled by the governor in exactly the same way, again subject to General Assembly action.

As usual, I will decline to engage in any speculation as to Justice Goodwyn’s judicial philosophy, or his likely influence upon the court. I will say that, having met him on a number of occasions, he has a very gracious, engaging personality, and fits well the current mold of justices in those regards. As indicated by the number of statewide bar associations that enthusiastically endorsed his candidacy, he is very well qualified for the office.

This appointment brings (from my perspective down here in Tidewater) a welcome geographic diversity to the court. The Supreme Court has not had a member from the southeastern corner of the state for a long time now (the chief justice was born here, but he’s a Richmonder now, and has been for a long time). Of course, having a Chesapeake pedigree hurts not one bit (I may not have mentioned that I grew up in that city . . .). And to add one final qualification, he uses his first initial and his middle name, just as I do. Of the previous members of the court, only Justice Agee has been sensible enough to do that. But if it’s good enough for E. Pluribus Unum, then it’s good enough for the rest of us.