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Nine judges falter in performance surveys

Peter Vieth//December 10, 2019

Nine judges falter in performance surveys

Peter Vieth//December 10, 2019

Judge_MAINAt least nine incumbent Virginia trial court judges seeking new terms could expect tough questions this month about their reviews from attorneys and others.

The Supreme Court of Virginia released Judicial Performance Evaluation reports Nov. 26 for 50 judges eligible for re-election by the 2020 General Assembly. Since the preparation of those reports, three of the surveyed judges decided to retire.

Of the 47 trial judges expected to be interviewed last week by legislators, the overall performance of nine was deemed either “Unsatisfactory” or “Needs improvement” by more than 14% of those surveyed. Five of those judges were found wanting by more than 20% of respondents.

Interview session

Interviews of the incumbent trial judges, and an appellate judge, were scheduled Dec. 6 with members of the 2019 Senate Courts Committee and House Judicial Panel. The one appellate judge up for re-election is Supreme Court Justice S. Bernard Goodwyn.

Also on the interview schedule was Rockingham County Commonwealth’s Attorney Marcia L. Garst who is up for re-election as a member of the Judicial Inquiry and Review Commission.

The Assembly generally acts to re-elect incumbent judges in January.

J&DR judges

Two juvenile and domestic relations judges stood out for low marks in the overall performance ratings.

One, Anthony Wayne Bailey of the Harrisonburg/Rockingham County J&DR Court, may have a time management problem. Bailey won high scores for courtesy and respect, but low scores for use of courtroom time and promptness in rendering decisions. Of 57 people surveyed, only 20 said Bailey uses courtroom time efficiently every time or frequently. Fifteen respondents – 27.3% – said Bailey’s overall performance is unsatisfactory or needs improvement.

Similar issues were evident for Frederick County/Winchester J&DR Judge Kimberly Marion Athey, with one additional factor: Knowledge of the law. Only 37.9% of those surveyed about Athey said she used courtroom time efficiently every time. And only 26 of 67 respondents – 43.3% – said Athey displays knowledge of the law every time. Seventeen respondents – 25.8% – said Athey’s performance either needs improvement or is unsatisfactory.

Fairfax County J&DR Judge Janine M. Saxe’s report showed lower-than-normal scores for patience, latitude for lawyers, and time management. Her overall performance was deemed in need of improvement or unsatisfactory by 16.5% of those surveyed.

Roanoke J&DR Judge Onzlee Ware – a former state delegate – was rated in the lower performance categories by 15% of respondents. His weak points included knowledge of the law, communication and courtroom efficiency, the survey report showed.

Circuit judges

Montgomery County Circuit Judge Marcus H. Long Jr. faced low scores in several categories. Twenty-three of 168 respondents – nearly 14% – said Long rarely or never shows respect for participants. More than 11% said Long displays courtroom patience rarely or never. Other problem areas were latitude for litigants and following the law. Nearly 26% said Long’s performance is unsatisfactory or needs improvement.

Arlington County Circuit Judge Daniel S. Fiore II was faulted for overall performance in 23.3% of his 190 completed surveys. Particular problem areas were respect for court participants, fairness to parties and impartial treatment of parties, the surveys showed.

General district judges

Patience was a problem point for Danville General District Judge Robert L. Adams Jr. Ten of 76 respondents said Adams displayed patience in the courtroom rarely or never. Eight said he allowed appropriate latitude for lawyers rarely or never. Adams was said to need performance improvement by 20.3% of those surveyed.

Lee County General District Judge Shawn L. Hines was evaluated in the lower performance categories by 14.9% of respondents. Hines received lower marks for fairness, impartiality and faithfulness to the law.

23 factors rated

The JPE program has been in place since 2014 in its current form. The reports are based on surveys of lawyers, supplemented by surveys of bailiffs and court reporters, according to the preface to the reports. For circuit judges, court office staff and jurors also completed surveys.

The attorney surveys ask for responses on 23 performance-based factors drawn from the state Canons of Judicial Conduct. Legislators traditionally focus on scores based on patience and respect for court participants.

Each survey asks for evaluation of the judge’s overall performance as “Excellent,” “Good,” “Needs improvement” or “Unsatisfactory.”

Circuit judges each have a separate report showing how many times they departed from sentencing guidelines.

It’s not the first survey session for the judges evaluated in the latest batch of reports. Each has had at least one interim evaluation conducted for self-improvement purposes. Those reports are not provided by the court.

Retiring judges

Eight judges whose terms end this year are retiring from the bench, according to legislators and Assembly staff:

  • Circuit Judge Gregory L. Rupe of Richmond
  • Circuit Judge Susan L. Whitlock of Culpeper
  • General District Judge Robert B. Beasley Jr. of Powhatan
  • General District Judge William G. Barkley of Charlottesville
  • General District Judge Dean S. Worcester of Leesburg
  • Juvenile & Domestic Relations Judge George M. DePolo of Manassas
  • Juvenile & Domestic Relations Judge Janice Justina Wellington of Manassas
  • Juvenile & Domestic Relations Judge Croxton Gordon of Eastville

The three judges who announced retirement after JPE reports were delivered to legislators were Rupe, Whitlock and Beasley.

Updated Dec. 10 to show that Fiore is a judge in Arlington County, not Fairfax County.

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