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The Domino Effect?

Elevation of a judge creates a new opening

The field for two seats on the Supreme Court of Virginia has swelled to 19 candidates.

Five judges on the Court of Appeals – almost half the court – are seeking a promotion.

And potential justices include five circuit judges, appellate specialists, prominent plaintiff’s and defense lawyers and a former Attorney General.

If the Assembly elects any of the appeals court judges, the domino effect will come into play – filling a seat creates another seat … and another opportunity for lawyers to don a black robe.

April 5 will be the occasion for a different kind of judge shopping on Capitol Hill. House and Senate Courts of Justice committees will interview the high court candidates they have not seen. And since the legislature found the money to fill 21 circuit and district court judgeships earlier this month, candidates have been scrambling to line up support and getting ready for their own close-ups before the courts committees.

Legislators have been moving at warp speed, too. Some local delegations have agreed on a candidate while candidates in other areas are still working to get the endorsement of their local bar associations and lobbying their legislators.

The Supreme Court

The five Court of Appeals candidates for the Supreme Court are Randolph A. Beales, Robert J. Humphreys, D. Arthur Kelsey, Elizabeth A. McClanahan and Cleo E. Powell. Circuit judge candidates include Pamela S. Baskervill of Petersburg, Gary A. Hicks of Henrico County, Michael S. Irvine of Rockbridge County, Victor V. Ludwig of Augusta County, Danville’s Joseph Milam Jr. and Clifford R. Weckstein of Roanoke.

Others who have expressed interest include former Virginia Attorney General Mark L. Earley, W. Coleman Allen Jr. of Richmond, L. Steven Emmert and Glen A. Huff of Virginia Beach, Senior Appellate AG Counsel Stephen R. McCullough, Monica Taylor Monday of Roanoke, S. Thomas Mullins of Grundy and Christopher Newport University General Counsel William E. Thro.

Any opening on the Court of Appeals will depend, of course, on whether one or two of the current judges gets chosen. The House Republican caucus already is on record as wanting to elevate McClanahan to a seat on the Supreme Court.

Circuit and district judgeships

Mary Kate Felch, the liaison between the legislature and the judicial system, and local bar leaders provided the following list of lower court candidates. Felch said candidates typically appear before the committees only with the sponsorship of a legislator. That sponsorship may represent active support or little more than courtesy to a constituent, she said.

If a general district or J&DR judge moves up to circuit court, the domino effect can come into play again.

• 2nd Circuit

The circuit consists of Virginia Beach and the Eastern Shore, with a circuit vacancy in each area. Candidates from Virginia Beach are General District Judge Gene A. Woolard, former Del. Glenn R. Crenshaw and Glen A. Huff, a civil litigator and former law partner of Gov. Robert F. McDonnell. Huff appears to have the upper hand with the delegation, but he’s also a candidate for one of two seats on the Supreme Court.

Candidates for the Eastern Shore seat are General District Judge Gordon S. Vincent, Thomas B. Dix Jr., W. Revell Lewis III and Thomas L. Northam. Lewis won the endorsement of the Eastern Shore Bar Association.

The circuit also has a district court vacancy. Candidates for the seat include Kathryn N. Byler, Daniel R. Lahne and Lisa Hodges.

• 5th Circuit

The candidates are Suffolk Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Judge Robert S. Brewbaker Jr., Suffolk General District Judge William R. Savage III, and attorneys Alfred William Bates III, Robert W. Jones Jr. and Denise A. Jackson.

• 6th Circuit

The candidates for a general district court seat are Sussex County Commonwealth’s Attorney Lyndia Person-Ramsey, Nathan C. Lee and Bruce A. Clarke Jr.

• 9th Circuit

York Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Judge Richard Y. AtLee Jr. is the leading candidate to fill a circuit seat that has been vacant for more than two years. Benjamin M. Hahn is also in the mix.
If AtLee is elevated, the candidates to replace him are Williamsburg Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Cressondra B. Conyers and James S. Insley.

• 10th Circuit

Two commonwealth’s attorneys are the leading candidates, Darrel W. Puckett from Appomattox County and Kimberley Slayton White from Halifax County.

• 11th Circuit

Candidates for a circuit seat include Powhatan General District Judge Paul W. Cella, Powhatan Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert B. Beasley Jr., Amelia J&DR Judge Valentine W. Southall and Joseph E. Preston.

There’s also a J&DR court vacancy with Phillip T. DiStanislao, Joan M. O’Donnell, Elbert D. Mumphery IV and Preston having expressed interest.

• 12th Circuit

Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney James J. O’Connell III appears to have the inside track with another prosecutor, Melissa A. Hoy and criminal defense attorney Keith N. Hurley also in the mix.

• 14th Circuit

The elevation of General District Judge James S. Yoffy to circuit court and replacement of him by Mary Bennett Malveaux appears to be a done deal.

• 15th Circuit

The circuit is another one with different bar groups and legislators holding sway in different areas of the county. The Fredericksburg Area Bar Association has endorsed Stafford General District Judge Sarah L. Deneke for a circuit vacancy and attorney Ricardo Rigual for her seat if the General Assembly promotes her.

The association’s nominating committee had found Deneke, Stafford J&DR Judge Julian W. Johnson and Deputy Spotsylvania County Commonwealth’s Attorney Thomas G. Shaia to be qualified for the seat.

It had found Rigual, Fredericksburg Commonwealth’s Attorney LaBravia J. Jenkins, J. Bruce Strickland, V. James Ventura and Herbert M. Hewitt qualified to fill the lower court seat.

Hanover County attorneys on the southern edge of the far-flung district didn’t get involved in that fray, and attorneys north of them stayed out of the effort to fill a J&DR seat in Hanover. Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Shannon Hoehl appears to have the upper hand there.

• 18th Circuit

The Alexandria Bar Association has highly recommended General District Judge Becky J. Moore and James C. Clark and recommended Raighne C. Delaney.

• 20th Circuit

A deal has been reached that would move Fauquier J&DR Judge J. Gregory Ashwell to general district court and elect Fauquier Commonwealth’s Attorney John Lynn to the J&DR seat.

• 24th Circuit

The delegation appears to have settled on elevating Campbell County General District Judge F. Patrick Yeatts but had not decided by press time on a candidate to replace Yeatts.

• 26th Circuit

Those under consideration are J&DR Judge William W. Sharp, James A. Drown, N. Randolph Bryant and Ian R.D. Williams.

• 27th Circuit

The courts committees will interview Montgomery County J&DR Judge Marcus H. Long Jr. and Montgomery General District Judge Gino W. Williams.

Candidates for a J&DR court seat include J.L. Tompkins and Dawn Cox.

• 30th Circuit

The delegation appears to have decided to elevate General District Judge Chadwick S. Dotson.

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