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Legal leaders back Thorne-Begland for judgeship

Five leading attorneys at Richmond’s largest law firms have added their signatures to a letter urging the appointment of Tracy Thorne-Begland, the openly gay Richmond prosecutor rejected for a judgeship by the House of Delegates.

“Several of us thought that he should be judged fully on his merits,” said Thurston R. Moore, former chairman and managing partner at Hunton & Williams.

“We all just believe this is the right thing to do,” said James V. Meath, chairman of the board at Williams Mullen.

The letter from the lawyers to Richmond Circuit Judge Richard D. Taylor Jr. is succinct: “We understand that the Court is considering appointing Tracy Thorne-Begland to the District Court for the City of Richmond. We believe he would be an outstanding jurist and support his appointment.”

The letter is signed by Moore, Meath, Richard Cullen, John S. West and Thomas M. Wolf.

Moore explained the idea originated with two of the signatories, who then called the others to seek support.

Cullen is chairman of McGuireWoods. He has served as Virginia attorney general and as the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. West is the managing partner at the Richmond office of Troutman Sanders. Wolf heads two practice groups at LeClairRyan.

If Thorne-Begland were appointed by the circuit judges to the general district bench, his tenure would end during the next General Assembly session unless the legislature elected him. His election failed in the House last month amid criticism of his public stance as a serviceman against the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy for homosexuals.

Both Moore and Meath demurred on predictions about changes in the political winds. “There’s a whole lot of variables there I’m not privy to,” Meath said.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports a number of delegates may be reconsidering their stance on Thorne-Begland’s candidacy. Delegates we contacted suggested the main issue of concern for many opponents was military conduct rather than sexual orientation.

Del. Manoli Loupassi, who backed Thorne-Begland’s candidacy in the House, said the endorsement lends weight to the prosecutor’s bid for a judgeship. The letter writers are “obviously legal giants,” Loupassi said.

Thorne-Begland declined comment on both the judicial selection process and his prospects on reconsideration at the General Assembly.

By Peter Vieth

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