Peter Vieth//May 17, 2021
Peter Vieth//May 17, 2021//
Volunteer lawyers are gearing up to evaluate 46 candidates identified by legislators as new potential contenders for seven open seats on the soon-to-be expanded Court of Appeals of Virginia.
The process will take a few months longer than anticipated. General Assembly leaders are hoping to get recommendations from various bar organizations by July 30. The Virginia State Bar – mobilizing extra attorneys for evaluation panels – hoped to have its reports by mid-July.
The timing is important because of the administrative details involved in getting up to seven new judges settled, staffed and up to speed by the time the court’s expanded jurisdiction goes into effect Jan. 1. Chief Judge Marla Graff Decker had hoped to have new judges selected by July 1.
No date had been announced as of May 12 for a General Assembly judicial selection session this summer, and no mention was made of plans for picking replacements for those trial court judges who move up to the expanded Court of Appeals.
The Court of Appeals will be the new first stop for civil litigants seeking review of their losses at the circuit court level. Expansion of the court’s jurisdiction is intended to provide an “appeal of right” for every disappointed trial litigant.
In its effort to cast a wide net for candidates who will diversify the court in terms of ethnicity, gender, geography and practice area, the Democratic caucuses of the House and Senate spoke with separate voices.
The Senate Judiciary Committee asked the VSB to evaluate just 15 candidates who had not been previously interviewed by the Judicial Candidate Evaluation Committee. The House Courts Committee added 31 additional names.
Some of the candidates identified by senators had not appeared on the list of applications received earlier by the VSB.
“Given the historic and unique opportunity to fill seven vacancies, and the level of interest by members of the judiciary and practitioners, it is crucial that all who have applied and meet the minimum qualifications … be given the equal opportunity to be evaluated by the Virginia State Bar,” wrote House Majority Leader Charniele L. Herring, who chairs the Courts Committee.
“To pre-determine who has an opportunity to be evaluated by the Bar results in what may appear to be an ‘insider’s game,’ which is not good for the integrity of our judicial system,” Herring wrote.
Herring requested the VSB add a third evaluation panel to get the added candidates vetted on time, and bar leaders agreed.
“The VSB Judicial Candidate Evaluation Committee has scheduled three meetings in early July to interview applicants. Expect our report by mid-July,” said Maryse C. Allen, who co-chairs the bar’s evaluation committee.
“The committee recruited additional participants and will conduct three distinct interview panels to meet the deadline,” added co-chair Bevin Alexander.
The VSB evaluated 19 candidates in December and January sessions. Other candidates had been considered previously. Those applicants were not included on the legislative request lists.
Various volunteer bar associations also were asked to evaluate the longer list of candidates.
“We plan to evaluate all those who asked us to evaluate them, as well as anyone additional as requested by the House or the Senate,” said Sherma Mather, executive director of the Virginia Association of Defense Attorneys.
Names requested for Senate evaluation:
House committee candidates: