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Supreme Court bills clear subcommittee

A legislative subcommittee approved bills last night that would have the General Assembly take over the judicial performance evaluation program and limit the tenure of the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Virginia to eight years.

The subcommittee also adopted bills that would require the legislature to approve retired judges before they can sit as substitutes and end the term of a district judge who has been convicted of a felony or Class 1 misdemeanor.

Del. Bill Janis, R-Henrico (right), the chairman of House Courts of Justice subcommittee on judicial systems, submitted HB 2526 after the Supreme Court of Virginia issued an order that limited dissemination of the evaluations of judges to members of the legislature.

Janis contends that the court lacks the authority to order legislators to withhold information in their custody, especially when the enabling legislation for the program made no provision for confidentiality.

Janis is also the sponsor of HB 2527, which would bar Chief Justice Leroy Rountree Hassell Sr., who is halfway through a second four-year term, from election by his colleagues to serve a third term as chief.

Janis insists that he has nothing personal against Hassell. Rather, he says, state law places too much authority in the person of the chief justice as opposed to the court as an institution.

Janis rolled HB 1865, which reflected much the same concern in the authority the chief justice now has over the temporary recall and appointment of retired, into HB 1804, sponsored by Del. Manoli Loupassi, R-Richmond. That bill gives the authority to designate retired judges eligible to sit as a substitute judge to the General Assembly.

HB 1753, sponsored by Del. Charles W. Carrico Jr., R-Galax, is an apparent response to the difficulties of former Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Judge M. Keith Blankenship, who resigned after being convicted of reckless driving and hit-and-run driving, both Class 1 misdemeanors, in separate incidents last year.

Under the bill, the term of a judge convicted of such offenses would end 30 days after the next session of the General Assembly. 

By Alan Cooper

One comment

  1. Judicial Performance Evaluation probably should be under the GA’s control, except that I have no faith in the ability of the GA to administer the program and fulfill its twin function of evaluating and improving judicial performance. The GA will focus exclusively on the evaluation process, mostly to get political cover when they want to dump a judge. However, if the GA makes clear that the evaluations will not be confidential, what lawyer in his or her right mind would give a judge a critical evaluation? Rather than waste taxpayer money on a program that will produce nothing but glowing evaluations (or worse, unfairly bad evaluations where the local bar decides to blackball a judge who is considered too friendly to the Commonwelath or to PI defendants), scrap the whole thing and come up with a sensible way to select judges with limited partisan involvement. If they can do it for redistricting (which might actually happen), why not with selection and retention of judges?

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