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Delegate claims McDonnell paved the way for recess appointment

A Northern Virginia lawmaker says the announcement that Virginia Beach Circuit Judge Patricia West will join the staff of Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli pulls back the shade from a mysterious budget amendment offered by Gov. Bob McDonnell.

During the final days of the 2012 General Assembly session, McDonnell urged legislators to “unthaw” the judge hiring freeze for a special category of vacancy. His proposal would unfreeze any trial court judgeship if the vacancy occurs between Aug. 1 and Dec. 1 of this year, and if the incumbent judge would not have been subject to mandatory retirement before next Feb. 16.

Del. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, said the proposal “didn’t smell right to me” at the time. He argued on the House floor the exception would encourage “strategic” retirements. Nevertheless, the measure passed.

In a blog post Friday, Surovell said the special window now will give McDonnell a recess appointment in his home jurisdiction, based on West’s planned resignation from the bench. “While this is all completely legal, it is exactly this kind of political gamesmanship that causes people to question our motives,” Surovell wrote.

Surovell argued Virginia Beach should have to justify filling its judicial vacancies just as other jurisdictions have done with caseload figures from the state Supreme Court.

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