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Assembly picks 16 judges before departing

Peter Vieth//March 12, 2018

Assembly picks 16 judges before departing

Peter Vieth//March 12, 2018//

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general-assembly_mainLegislators selected 16 new Virginia trial court judges March 9 before adjourning the next day to await a special session that could produce funding for additional judicial seats.

The General Assembly elected five circuit judges, five general district judges and six juvenile and domestic relations judges as it wrapped up its 60-day session that started Jan. 10.

A stalemate prevented filling of two J&DR judgeships in Fairfax County. Republicans had advanced an alternative candidate for a lawyer selected through the elaborate Fairfax judicial selection procedure. The final step in that procedure – approval by the Fairfax legislative delegation – is now dominated by Democrats. When it came time to vote, legislators balked at selection of any candidate for the two Fairfax J&DR vacancies.

List of elected judges

The newly elected judges all begin terms on July 1, with one noted exception. They are:

Circuit Court Judges
-Chesapeake J&DR Judge Rufus A. Banks, Jr., 1st Circuit

-Williamsburg attorney Michael A. Gaten, 8th Circuit

-Culpeper County General District Judge Dale B. Durrer, 16th Circuit

-Russell County Commonwealth’s Attorney Brian K. Patton, 29th Circuit

-Prince William County Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney James A. Willett, 31st Circuit (term commencing April 1, 2018)

General District Court Judges
-Suffolk Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Matthew A. Glassman, 5th District

-Hampton attorney Selena Stellute Glenn, 8th District

-Orange County attorney Theresa W. Carter, 16th District

-Wythe County Commonwealth’s Attorney Gerald E. Mabe II, 27th District

-Wise County J&DR Judge Ronald K. Elkins, 30th District

Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court Judges
-Chesapeake Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney David J. Whitted, 1st District

-Portsmouth attorney Diane P. Griffin, 3rd District

-Norfolk attorney Robert M. Smith III, 4th District

-Lynchburg Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Brooke-Taylor Willse Gaddy, 24th District

-Abingdon attorney Richard S. Buddington Jr., 28th District

-Scott County Commonwealth’s Attorney Marcus F. McClung, 30th District

Fairfax openings

For Fairfax County, the Assembly passed on the opportunity to select two candidates for J&DR judgeships, one funded and the other under consideration for funding. After a vetting process by the Fairfax County Bar Association, Fairfax legislators had backed Maha-Rebekah Abejuela of the county attorney’s office and Jonathan D. Frieden of Reston. Legislators also interviewed criminal defense attorney John A. Kassabian.

Frieden is a former criminal defense attorney who now has a commercial litigation practice at a Reston law firm. Since 2015, he has served as a substitute judge in J&DR court where he has heard more than 2,400 matters while sitting 125 days as a judge, he told legislators. The Fairfax Bar listed Frieden as “Highly Recommended” for the J&DR seat.

“I fell in love with juvenile court,” Frieden told legislators at a Feb. 23 interview session.

Republicans – including Sen. Richard H. Stuart, R-Montross, questioned his lack of practice experience in J&DR court.

“I have concerns over anyone who’s a candidate for a court they’ve never practiced in,” Stuart said March 11. Stuart said the Fairfax delegation was undecided between Frieden and Kassabian. “They couldn’t work anything out,” he said.

Abejuela currently represents the county Department of Family Services in abuse and neglect cases. She previously worked as an assistant commonwealth’s attorney for more than five years, according to a biography published in the Fairfax Bar screening process.

Kassabian has regularly served as a substitute judge since 2007, the bar reported. Both he and Abejuela were “Recommended” in the bar’s screening process.

Patton selected in 29th Circuit

Despite public criticism of changes on the circuit bench in a four-county Southwest Virginia circuit, the Assembly elected Patton to succeed sitting Judge Henry Vanover. Vanover failed to win re-election earlier in the session despite endorsement by the Dickenson County Bar Association and favorable reviews in a judicial performance survey administered by the Supreme Court of Virginia.

Patton – Vanover’s replacement – is married to a lawyer working as an associate for Sen. Ben Chafin, R-Lebanon. In a Feb. 26 letter to area legislators, Buchanan County attorney Thomas R. Scott Jr. criticized the appearance of political patronage.

In selecting Vanover’s replacement, “you failed to seek any meaningful input whatsoever from the Bar, courthouse personnel, law enforcement and – not the least of which – the public,” Scott wrote to lawmakers. “In essence, you betrayed the very constituency judges are appointed to serve,” Scott continued.

Other choices

Some candidates who were interviewed on Feb. 23 and March 7 were passed over for election to judgeships.

The Assembly made no selection for a vacancy in the 6th Circuit despite interviews with Greensville County J&DR Judge Carson E. Saunders Jr. and Hopewell lawyer Elbert D. Mumphery IV.

Shenandoah County J&DR Judge Kevin C. Black was not elected to the circuit bench despite being interviewed Feb. 23.

Martinsville lawyer James R. McGarry, Arlington lawyer Judith L. Wheat and Virginia Beach lawyer Timothy J. Quick were not nominated for judgeships in their communities, despite March 7 interviews.

Lynchburg litigator J. Frederick Watson lost out to Gaddy in a bid for the Lynchburg J&DR judgeship.

In a two-way contest for a Hampton J&DR seat, neither solo lawyer Dywona L. Vantree-Keller nor Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Pamela J. Jones was nominated. The Hampton general district judgeship went to Glenn over bids by Robert G. Saunders and Romeo G. Lumaban Jr. The GD seat was vacated by the October death of Judge Albert W. “Pat” Patrick III.

Gaden replaces Wilford Taylor Jr. who retired in December after more than three decades on the circuit bench in Hampton.

In their bid for Banks’ Chesapeake J&DR seat, lawyer Erin L. Evans-Bedois lost out to Whitted, who had narrowly missed selection for a judgeship in 2015.

Buddington replaces Bristol J&DR Judge Kurt Pomrenke who was removed from the bench by the Virginia Supreme Court in November for judicial ethics violations in connection with a criminal case against Pomrenke’s wife.

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