The proposal to transfer control of the judicial performance evaluation program from the Supreme Court of Virginia died last night in the Senate Courts of Justice Committee on a 9-6 vote. The House had approved the measure on a 49-48 vote.
Sen. Ken T. Cuccinelli II, R-Fairfax, and most of the Republican on the committee supported the measure, House Bill 2526, with Cuccinelli commenting, “I hope we would finally get some use out of the $700,000 we’re spending a year” on the program.
Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, said the basis of the program, surveys sent to attorneys, jurors and court personnel familiar with a judge’s work, have “never been validated to ensure that they’re accurate and fair.”
Moreover, Edwards said, “There hasn’t been a discussion as to what should and should not be made public.”
That’s at the core of the tension between the Supreme Court and the legislature on the issue. The court has ordered the legislature to limit dissemination of the reports to members of the legislature.
The order infuriated some legislators who question the authority of the court to order another branch of government not to disclose information it has. The order calls for the chairmen of the House and Senate courts committees to disseminate the reports and to collect and return them once the review process is complete.
Neither chairman has opened the sealed packets, Del. David B. Albo, R-Fairfax, because the order creates the possibility that he could be held in contempt of court and Sen. Henry L. Marsh III because he thinks the process is unfair to judges.
Still, Marsh maintained hope that the project can be salvaged. “If we sit down with the court and the senior legislators, we can work this out,” he said.
By Alan Cooper