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After impasse, legislators elect 2 Supreme Court justices

(AP) The Virginia General Assembly on June 17 elected two new justices to serve on the state Supreme Court, elevated a lower court judge to the state Court of Appeals and elected two other judges.

The Supreme Court, Virginia’s highest, is comprised of seven justices who serve 12-year terms. The vacancies that lawmakers filled June 17 were created after two recent departures. Former Chief Justice Donald W. Lemons retired in February, and Justice William Mims did not seek reappointment when his term ended in March.

The spots have been vacant for months because leaders of the Democrat-controlled Senate and GOP-controlled House could not agree on how much sway each side should have in picking the new nominees and backfilling subsequent vacancies.

The new Supreme Court justices are: Thomas Mann, who has served as a Circuit Court judge in Fairfax County since 2016; and Wesley G. Russell Jr., a Virginia native who has served on the Virginia Court of Appeals since 2015.

Mann spent a decade as a Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court judge before becoming a Circuit Court judge.

Last year, he scolded prosecutors for what he considered to be a lenient plea deal in a sex abuse case. Oscar Zaldivar, 53, received a 17-year sentence for molesting a young relative. The victim’s family asked the judge to reject the plea. Mann ultimately accepted the plea deal but told the victim at Saldivar’s sentencing hearing, “Your government has failed you.”

Mann’s daughter, Grace Mann, was a junior at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg when she was murdered in 2015. A roommate was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

Mann graduated from the American University law school.

Russell, 51, worked as a deputy attorney general in the civil litigation division of the Virginia Office of the Attorney General before being elected to the Court of Appeals. Before that, he was a partner at the law firm of McSweeney, Crump, Childress & Temple. He earned his law degree from George Mason University School of Law in 1995.

“Appointing justices to the Supreme Court of Virginia is a responsibility we don’t take lightly – the individuals chosen will be determining the path of the Commonwealth for years. We are proud to appoint Justice Mann and Justice Russell today; their dedication to public service and lifelong commitment to the law will serve them well as they begin their work on the state’s highest court,” Democratic Senate Judiciary Co-Chair John Edwards said in a statement.

Kimberley S. White, of Halifax, who is currently a Circuit Court judge for the 10th Judicial District, was elevated to fill Russell’s spot on the Court of Appeals.

Manuel Capsalis, a judge in Fairfax County General District Court since 2015, was elected as a Circuit Court judge, while attorney Dipti Pidikiti-Smith, of Fairfax, was elected to serve as a judge in General District Court in the 19th District.

-DENISE LAVOIE and SARAH RANKIN, Associated Press

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