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Legislature fails to appoint judges

Gov. Tim Kaine will have to fill judicial vacancies because the General Assembly adjourned this morning without filling any seats, just as it failed to reach agreement on transportation policy and funding.

A deal that would have put Chesterfield County Circuit Judge Cleo E. Powell on the State Corporation Commission and Chief Court of Appeals Judge Walter S. Felton Jr. on the Supreme Court of Virginia failed when Democrats balked at Felton, whom they remembered as a top advisor to Republican Gov. Jim Gilmore.

The legislators apparently had no interest in filling vacancies on other courts when they were unable to start at the top, so Kaine will have to fill not only the Supreme Court and SCC vacancies but seats in Norfolk, Virginia Beach and Hampton where partisan divisions are bitter and strong.

The discord may limit the field because some judges and attorneys will be unwilling to risk their positions or practices for an appointment that is only good until February, when the General Assembly will have another opportunity to fill the seats.

Today, the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association became the final statewide bar group to send Kaine endorsements for the Supreme Court vacancy created by the appointment of Justice G. Steven Agee to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The trial lawyers found Fairfax Circuit Judge R. Terrence Ney and Roanoke Circuit Judge Clifford R. Weckstein to be highly qualified and Arlington Circuit Judge Joanne F. Alper; Felton; Circuit Judge Colin R. Gibb, who sits in Pulaski and Giles counties; Loudoun County Circuit Judge Thomas D. Horne; Court of Appeals Judge Leroy F. Millette, Jr.; and Chief Deputy Attorney General William C. Mims to be qualified.

By Alan Cooper

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