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Halifax prosecutor not certified for judgeship

The Senate Courts of Justice Committee was apparently unimpressed by two prosecutors who are seeking a judgeship in the 10th Circuit.

This afternoon, the Committee found Darrell W. Puckett, the commonwealth’s attorney in Appomattox County, to be qualified for the seat on a vote of 6-5-1. It did not certify Kimberley S. White, Puckett’s counterpart in Halifax County, as qualified.

Under legislative rules, a candidate can be considered by each house of the legislature only if the courts committees in the respective houses certify them as qualified. The Senate committee certified more than 40 other candidates for vacancies on the Supreme Court of Virginia, circuit and district courts, and perhaps the Virginia Court of Appeals.

The House courts committee earlier had certified all the candidates that the Senate certified yesterday with the exception of Kathryn N. Byler, a candidate for a general district vacancy in Virginia Beach. The House committee appeared to be put off by her lack of familiarity with Hernandez v. Commonwealth, the Supreme Court case that judges have the inherent authority to defer judgment and ultimately dismiss a criminal charge.

Puckett and White ran into difficulty on unrelated issues when they appeared before the Senate committee on April 5.

Sen. A. Donald McEachin, D-Richmond, was troubled by Puckett’s response to a question about why he wanted to be a judge: “God has a purpose and plan for everyone who belongs to him.”
“That suggests a belief that there are those who do not belong to him,” McEachin said, “How would that impact your decision-making on the bench?”

Puckett replied that his decisions would be consistent with state law.
McEachin also asked whether Puckett would be more inclined to believe the testimony of courtroom witnesses who he thought were “children of God.”

“No,” Puckett replied.

White was questioned about her role as a special prosecutor assigned to investigate the death of Sanchez Taylor, who died in June 2005 after being arrested outside a welding shop that had been burglarized in Amherst County.

White said she interviewed witnesses, reviewed files and learned that Taylor had serious mental health issues. She said she concluded that prosecution of the deputies who arrested was not appropriate but did not prepare a written report of her investigation because she did not want it to play any role in a lawsuit filed by members of Taylor’s family.

The lawsuit eventually was settled for $325,000.

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