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Judicial evaluation program still in limbo

The judicial performance evaluation reports of the first five judges to go through the process remain sealed today after the House and Senate Courts of Justice Courts of Justice Committees were unable to decide how to handle them.

The Supreme Court of Virginia has given the evaluations to the chairmen of the committees but issued an order that they could not release the reports to anyone other than legislators.

Del. David B. Albo, R-Fairfax, said that created the possibility that he could be held in contempt or even jailed if the reports circulated more widely.

Some committee members sharply questioned the authority of the court to order legislators to do anything.

House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, and Del Terry G. Kilgore, R-Scott, met yesterday with Chief Justice Leroy Rountree Hassell, and he said they assured him that legislators had nothing to fear from citing the reports in evaluating judges for reappointment.

His concerns were abiding by assurances to judges that the reports would be confidential and ensuring that they would not be circulated and used to create comparisons among individual judges, Griffith and Scott said.

Del. William H. Fralin Jr., R-Roanoke, said the legislature might have made a mistake in delegating the evaluation program to the judicial branch. Legislators, not judges, select judges and should develop their own information, he said.

Sen. Kenneth W. Stolle, R-Virginia Beach, noted that the enabling legislation says nothing about confidentiality. “The statute doesn’t limit access to the information,” Stolle said. “I want it.”He said it was unfortunate that the court had intruded on legislative prerogatives and just as unfortunate that the General Assembly appears to be allowing the intrusion.

The meeting ended with Albo’s comment that he was returning the evaluations to the court. “Anyone who wants to pursue this further will have to deal the Supreme Court themselves,” he said.

By Alan Cooper

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