Faces changing at judicial ethics commission

Virginia Lawyers Weekly//March 8, 2019

Faces changing at judicial ethics commission

Virginia Lawyers Weekly//March 8, 2019

capitol_mainThree new members will join Virginia’s Judicial Inquiry and Review Commission this year and one member will return to the panel with a new constituency.

The retirement of Warren County Circuit Judge Ronald L. Napier in July opened a circuit court seat on the seven-member commission. The General Assembly on Feb. 14 elected Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney James Plowman to the circuit bench in the 20th Circuit and then – on Feb. 21 – elected him to fill Napier’s unexpired term on the JIRC ending in June of 2021.

Plowman had been a lawyer member of the commission. That lawyer position was promptly filled with the election of Rockingham County Commonwealth’s Attorney Marsha Garst to a term that ends in June 2020.

Information on the new JIRC members and their terms was provided by the Division of Legislative Services.

Two other newcomers will join the commission in July. Hanover County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Judge Shannon O. Hoehl will replace Pulaski County Judge H. Lee Chitwood, who will complete the maximum two terms.

Staunton attorney Humes J. “Tripp” Franklin III will succeed attorney member Michael E. Untiedt of Marion, who also has served two terms.

Gloucester County General District Judge Stephanie E. Merritt was re-elected this session to a second term that will expire in 2023.

Two citizen members of the commission remain: H. Gayland Lyles and Robert H. Simpson. Their terms expire in 2021.

JIRC is staffed by Commission Counsel Robert Q. Harris, who took office in January 2018 after the retirement of Katherine B. Burnett. Harris previously served as director of the Commonwealth’s Attorneys’ Services Council and as an assistant attorney general. Former AAG Benjamin H. Katz is assistant counsel at JIRC.

Established by the Virginia Constitution, the JIRC investigates charges of judicial misconduct or serious disability leveled against any of 925 judicial officials. JIRC’s jurisdiction covers judges, substitute judges, special justices, SCC commissioners, Workers’ Compensation commissioners, and retired judges.

The commission consists of three judges, two lawyers and two lay members elected by the Assembly for four-year terms.

The commission received 539 calls from judges for confidential ethics advice during the 12 months ending in November, according to its annual report dated Nov. 30.

The agency handled 482 complaints, most from members of the general public and most dismissed as outside the jurisdiction of the commission.

For five of those complaints, the commission concluded the Canons of Judicial Conduct were breached, but dismissed the complaints anyway, the report said. The commission’s charge is to file formal complaints with the Supreme Court of Virginia if charges are well-founded and sufficient to justify retirement, censure or removal of a judge.


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