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Senator bucks bar groups, backs Rogers for circuit bench

Despite local bar endorsements and a 2016 pledge to the contrary, Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, says he’s backing Chief Juvenile and Domestic Relations Judge Frank Rogers for a circuit court vacancy.

His announcement Feb. 11 did not mention the Roanoke Valley bar recommendations for JDR Judge Leisa Ciaffone, or a joint news release issued in 2016 in which Edwards pledged to support Ciaffone for the next circuit vacancy.

Edwards’ support may be pivotal for Rogers’ bid for the circuit judgeship. Judges are nominated by the majority parties of the two General Assembly chambers, and the parties defer to local legislators in their judicial selections.

Ciaffone has been on the JDR bench since 2013. Rogers was named to the JDR court in 2015.

While still in private practice, Rogers was twice endorsed by Roanoke lawyers for the circuit bench, in 2002 and 2013.

“There are others well qualified and deserving, but I believe now is the time for Judge Rogers to serve on the Circuit Court,” Edwards said in a news release.

“Judge Rogers has proven to be an outstanding jurist in every way and is eminently qualified to serve on the Circuit Court,” Edwards said. “I have known Judge Rogers and his extraordinarily distinguished family for many years and am happy to have the opportunity to elevate him to this new judgeship,” Edwards continued.

Both the Roanoke Bar Association and the Salem/Roanoke County Bar Association in January endorsed Ciaffone for the seat of retiring Circuit Judge William D. Broadhurst, who will step down in March. Four candidates, including Rogers, had expressed interest in the position.

Republican Sen. David Suetterlein of Roanoke issued a joint statement in 2016 backing a circuit court candidate and pledging to support Ciaffone for the next circuit vacancy. Edwards was quoted in the release as supporting that year’s candidate and is identified as a joint author of the statement. Suetterlein said Feb. 12 that he stands by his 2016 pledge of support for Ciaffone.

The General Assembly is scheduled to vote on open judicial seats on Feb. 27.

Updated Feb. 12 to clarify Edwards’ role in the 2016 release and to note Suetterlein’s statement.