Only two of about 60 incumbent judges encountered serious flak when they appeared Thursday before the House and Senate Courts of Justice Committees.
Sixth District J&DR Judge Jacqueline R. Waymack had to contend with a finding by the Judicial Inquiry and Review Commission that she failed to avoid the appearance of impropriety in a bond hearing shortly after she was appointed in which her former partner represented the defendant and in a comment she made after she denied a change in custody from a grandmother to a mother who worked as a stripper.
She commented that the case might be decided differently by “one of our male liberal judges upstairs.”
In her formal response to the initial JIRC complaint, she said she regretted the comment but made it in response to the mother’s attorney that stripping was a wholesome activity and that it would be better for the child to go to work with the mother than to stay with the grandmother.
Lawrence D. Diehl, the attorney who represented the mother, told the committee he said no such thing and contended that “a false statement to mitigate a JIRC complaint” made her unworthy of reappointment. JIRC issued what amounted to a private reprimand and required Waymack to undergo two years of supervision that she completed successfully.
Several attorneys, including Hopewell Commonwealth’s Attorney Anthony Sylvester, contended that JIRC’s requirement that Waymack recuse herself from hearing cases involving attorneys who had made complaints about her created administrative difficulties.Waymack responded that her description of Diehl’s remark was “a paraphrase of my interpretation of what was said” and did not differ significantly from his argument.
She also said she and the other J&DR judge in the district have worked out a system to minimize problems with recusals. Several lawyers and a contingent of Prince George County and Hopewell residents spoke on her behalf, and Sen. L. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, a member of the Senate Courts Committee said, “I recommend her without reservation.”
Chesterfield Circuit Judge Timothy J. Hauler ran into criticism on three fronts: a sentencing in a vehicular manslaughter case, a sharply worded reversal by the Virginia Court of Appeals in a custody case, and the defamation lawsuit he filed against Circuit Court Clerk Judy L. Worthington, who had opposed his reappointment three years ago.
Committee members appeared to regard the manslaughter sentencing more as a reflection of sentencing guidelines than as an indication of light sentencing in general.
The members were more critical of his decision to read a transcript of a J&DR hearing before conducting a de novo review of a custody case. Hauler acknowledged he made a mistake in doing so.
And Sen. Ken Cuccinelli II, R-Fairfax, said the suit against Worthington, which was eventually settled at a cost to taxpayers of nearly $400,000 in attorneys’ fees and a payment of $90,000 to Hauler, “causes me very sincere concern with respect to your continuing to serve on the bench.”
Whatever the merits of the case, filing suit against a critic of his judicial performance “is very problematic in what is a very challenging process for us,” Cuccinelli said.
A contingent of Chesterfield lawyers, including Commonwealth’s Attorney William Davenport, appeared on Hauler’s behalf, as did Sen. John Watkins, R-Chesterfield.
The legislature is expected to act on the reappointment of incumbents next month.
By Alan Cooper