Largely suppressing any public disagreement, the Virginia General Assembly last Tuesday reversed last year’s rejection of an openly gay judge candidate with the election of Tracy Thorne-Begland to a full term on the Richmond General District Court bench.
Thorne-Begland was among a slate of 44 incumbent trial court judges elected by the Assembly.
As a candidate for a seat last year, Thorne-Begland won only 33 votes, with 51 needed for election. The circuit judges in Richmond named him to the judgeship on a pro tempore, or temporary, assignment.
This time around, Thorne-Begland doubled his approval rating, with 66 delegates voting in favor of the former prosecutor, 28 opposed and one abstention.
In the Senate, as Majority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City County, admonished colleagues to avoid any open display of opposition, the vote was 28-0 in favor of Thorne-Begland, with 21 needed for approval. Twelve senators declined to vote.
The final vote in the Senate was a do-over. The first balloting produced one negative vote, cast by Sen. Richard Black, R-Leesburg, according to a Washington Post account. Black sponsored a measure in this General Assembly that would prohibit circuit court judges from appointing to the general district court a candidate such as Thorne-Begland, who had been rejected in a floor vote.
Thorne-Begland never came before the Senate in last year’s judicial elections.
News of Thorne-Begland’s election produced comments on Twitter. “Nice to see some progress,” tweeted Del. Scott A. Surovell, D-Fairfax. “Congratulations Judge Thorne-Begland,” added Del. Gregory D. Habeeb, R-Roanoke.
The 44 judges elected Tuesday were either incumbents up for new terms or judges pro tem, such as Thorne-Begland, who were appointed after last year’s legislative session either by circuit judges or by the governor.
Judges seeking reelection came before the Senate courts committee and a House judicial panel on Dec. 14. On Jan. 14, courts committee members interviewed judges who were appointed to their posts after the legislature adjourned in 2012.
– By Peter Vieth