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High court hears request to remove judge

Today the Supreme Court of Virginia heard argument in JIRC v. Shull, the case in which the Judicial Inquiry and Review Commission is seeking censure or removal of a Wise County juvenile judge who had a woman lower her pants in the courtroom to let the judge examine a knife wound above her knee.

When she appeared before Judge James Michael Shull Dec. 15, 2006, Tammy Giza claimed her husband had stabbed her. But in a separate incident nine months earlier, Giza admitted she had accused her husband of inflicting another knife wound that in fact had been self-inflicted.

JIRC counsel Donald Curry cited three reasons to censure or remove Shull, who was suspended last December. In the Giza case, Shull asked Giza not once, but twice, to lower her pants in the courtroom, and he made an ex parte telephone call from his chambers during the hearing to a hospital where Giza was treated for the knife wound. In a separate case, Shull used a coin toss to determine the order of Christmas visitation.

Richmond lawyer Russ Palmore, who represented Shull, tried to put the judge’s admittedly improper conduct into context. The wife had a protective order against the husband, set to expire at the end of December. Shull, who also sits in Lee and Scott Counties, was running out of Wise County court dates so close to Christmas. With the husband and wife trading accusations, Shull was trying to decide whether the parties’ two little boys should be with “a stabber or a cutter.”

In his brief, Shull also tried another time-honored tactic: I may have been bad, but not as bad as some others. Only three other sitting Virginia judges have been removed from office: one in 1903, when he beat a preacher with a horsewhip; one in 1908, when he failed to appear in court because he refused to leave a brothel; and more recently, a judge was removed in 1977 after he misappropriated firearm and alcohol evidence, and consumed the beers in chambers.

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