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Bill to curb judicial appointments tabled

A bill to restrict circuit court judges’ right to fill a seat on the district court bench has been tabled by a House Courts of Justice subcommittee.

House Bill 1338 would change Va. Code § 16.1-69.9:2 to add that no person could be appointed on an interim basis to fill a vacant district court seat, when the legislature is not in session, if that person had been rejected by a majority of either the Virginia House or Senate.

Del. Mark Cole, R-Fredericksburg, presented the bill to the civil subcommittee. Cole said it was a “straightforward” measure designed to “protect the prerogative of the General Assembly. If someone is rejected by a floor vote of the General Assembly,” they should not win appointment by other means, he said.

Del. Sal Iaquinto, R-Va. Beach, got no response to his invitation to hear from anyone speaking for or against the bill. The subcommittee unanimously voted to lay the bill on the table, on a motion from Del. Manoli Loupassi, R-Richmond.

Sen. Richard Black, R-Leesburg, has filed a companion bill, Senate Bill 693. Both measures are thought to be a response to controversy over the Richmond Circuit Court’s interim appointment of Judge Tracy Thorne-Begland to a general district court seat after the legislature voted him down last spring.

In other action, the subcommittee reported out House Bill 1425, introduced by Del. Thomas Greason, R-Loudoun, at the request of the Virginia Poverty Law Center. The bill is intended to clarify that a tenant may go to the general district court for relief if a landlord unlawfully causes utilities to be turned off.

“We’re trying to give the tenant access to the court system to get the utilities turned back on,” Greason told the subcommittee.

Apparently it has been unclear whether the general district court or the circuit court has jurisdiction in this instance, Iaquinto said, and in light of the “Kumbayah moment” that led to the bill, he and the subcommittee voted unanimously to report the bill.

The subcommittee still is studying House Bill 1549, patroned by Iaquinto and passed by last year when the legislature ran out of time for last-minute tinkering. The bill provides that a party in a pending domestic relations proceeding may be ordered to maintain existing life insurance policies and the court may order the cost of the premiums to be allocated between the parties.

Virginia Beach family law practitioner Richard Garriott Jr. told the subcommittee the Virginia Family Law Coalition is still ironing out some details with the proposed legislation.
UPDATED: House Bill 1322, dealing with the application of foreign law in Virginia courts, was stricken at the request of the patron, Del. Rick Morris, R-Isle of Wight.
–Deborah Elkins

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