PARTIAL LEGISLATIVE DEAL POSSIBLE ON JUDGESHIPS[Posted September 29, 2008] The Virginian-Pilot reports today that legislators may be nearing an agreement to break a months-long stalemate and fill four long-vacant circuit court judgeships here in Tidewater. Earlier this year, this feud escalated to the point that the General Assembly, despite having no fewer than four opportunities to fill a vacancy in the Supreme Court, failed to act, thrusting the responsibility onto Governor Kaine. The Governor elevated Judge Lee Millette from the Court of Appeals, and appointed Chesterfield Circuit Judge Cleo Powell to fill Millette’s CAV seat.
The Pilot story reports that the prospective deal calls for the immediate appointment of Norfolk Commonwealth’s Attorney Jack Doyle, GDC Judge Lou Sherman, and JDR Judge Jerrauld Jones to the Norfolk Circuit Court, with the legislature agreeing to elect Virginia Beach City Attorney Les Lilley to the circuit court bench in that city in January. But the horizon is not clear; the story hints that the origin of the impasse, Norfolk Senator Yvonne Miller, isn’t budging on her intransigent position, which led to the stalemate in the first place.
How does this affect appellate courts? By prolonging the quasi-interim status of Justice Millette and Judge Powell, neither of whom deserve this kind of treatment. Both jurists assumed their new positions with no guarantee of employment beyond February, when their gubernatorial appointments expire. If the General Assembly is still paralyzed when it reconvenes, we could go back to having a Supreme Court vacancy, plus another one in the Court of Appeals (since Justice Millette wouldn’t automatically revert to being Judge Millette if the legislature declines to elect him to a full term).
If you, my readers, want to help avoid this kind of nightmare, you can join me in asking the legislators to do the business we elected them to do, by reaching a speedy agreement on all of these positions. Continuing this stare-down helps no one, and harms the courts’ ultimate consumers — us.