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Let’s Talk About Judicial Selection! Want DC Antics in Richmond?

If the Dems Win, Better NOT be a Member of the Knights of Columbus!

Judicial selection is atrocious in the Commonwealth. I know from experience. Most of my readers know I applied for a judgeship on several occasions. An aspirant often does not when a position is available or when it will be decided. Even legislators do not always know the plan at the beginning of the term. You have to bug legislators and their staffs for appointments and meetings, often during session. It is vaguely disrespectful to the legislators, the process and the position sought. Local bar associations have input but the bar’s input is not always welcome to the General Assembly.

However, the judicial selection process has one huge advantage: A nobody like me can be considered – even for the Court of Appeals. I, along with about 20 others, got senate interviews. One of those 20, Prince William County Circuit Court Judge Mary Grace O’Brien, was elected to the Court of Appeals.

But the event that took the cake was the otherwise routine reappointment of Judge Harry Vanover of Dickenson County that was suddenly opposed by at least a majority of the local legislative delegation.

Now at first, I was concerned but I played by the rules: I decided as a constituent to contact my Senator (McDougle) and my delegate (Peace) and sent them an email asking (slightly edited):

I write to express my concerns about what I am reading from the far west of Virginia about the failure to reappoint Judge Harry Vanover. 

I fully realize that local members have and should have great power to select and de-select judges in their area without interference from others in other regions of the state.  But this sounds troubling the vague reasons the delegation has – ability or willingness to travel through the circuit.  it is fairly obvious this is not a voluntary retirement of the judge.  No one I know has come forward to say Vanover is unfit or unable to serve. 

Here is the Coalfield Progress:  http://www.thecoalfieldprogress.com/dickenson_star/vanover-loses-seat-on-circuit-court-bench/article_b89ccd44-00c2-11e8-b26a-8f1eaff05973.html

There has to be both accountability as well as transparency in judicial selection.  I bring perhaps a close to unique perspective having sought your support for a judgeship and the system is not transparent.  I know of two judges appointed in Hanover appointed at the end of a session.  I think there should be something like a job posting for each position. 

But the Vanover matter seems to me will discourage good men and women from even seeking the bench.  Why should an attorney in practice, respected in the community and has a solid practice give that up so that six or eight years later he or she can be a victim of political mechanizations? * * * Time to say – yes we respect the process – but you need a better reason not to reappoint a judge than vague reasons as that.  Say no to this and reappoint Judge Vanover – or at least let’s see the delegation defend their decision publicly. 

I got a response from Senator McDougle’s office and eventually spoke with the senator about it. No word that I recall from de facto candidate Delegate Chris Peace on this.

I did nothing else until the issue was revived by the Dickenson County BOCS passing a resolution in support of Judge Vanover and I found my voice and wrote this blog entry. Here is a key argument:

So why does this matter?  it matters a lot.  Why should a veteran lawyer with an established practice, respected by the people, his/her colleagues and the bench give all that up for a four or six year term as judge when you can be ousted for politics.  This will place all the judges subject to the whim of a few delegates and senators.

But if the Dems take over the Dems certainly will have the right to appoint their partisans. I am sure many liberal lawyers have waited a long time for their change at a judgeship (and some of them will turn out to be good judges).

But the Dems may dig up past comments, campaign positions, organizations and associations prior to taking the bench and use this to launch pogroms against sitting judges. Veteran jurists will have to apologize and grovel to save their jobs. Two examples: Criticism about organizations such as the Scouts and the Knights of Columbus for example.

So if you want to keep the terrible judicial selection system (it reminds me of the aphorism attributed to Churchill: Democracy is the worst form of government until you consider the alternatives) vote GOP. Otherwise California or DC could come to Richmond.

About Elwood Sanders

Elwood "Sandy" Sanders is a Hanover attorney who is an Appellate Procedure Consultant for Lantagne Legal Printing and has written ten scholarly legal articles. Sandy was also Virginia's first Appellate Defender and also helped bring curling in VA! (None of these titles imply any endorsement of Sanders’ views)

2 Responses to “Let’s Talk About Judicial Selection! Want DC Antics in Richmond?”

  1. Kathy says:

    Thank you for addressing this extremely important issue. Judges impact our quality of life in more ways than I ever imagined…until our family began a decade of torture and permanent harm imposed by a derelict liberal GAL and a judge nominated by Chris Peace.

    Please visit the website “therobingroom” and scroll down to Virginia to get an idea of what I mean. Three of ten complaints are against that judge. Also note the rarity of complaints. Wish I had more time but be glad I don’t! It would ruin your day! May God bless you and yours always and please keep up the good fight… we need more soldiers like you.

    Praise God for excellent attorney after I appealed…they scattered like roaches and consented to undo everything the Peace nominee had done. Sadly we still suffer from the years of insanity inflicted upon us. The main victim is a precious little boy with severe autism and adhd and rare genetic abnormality.

  2. tiger singh says:

    ya … judiciary must be for everyone … I love your post ….. I appreciate it

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Tom White Says:

Nothing is more conservative than a republican wanting to get their majority back. And nothing is more liberal than a republican WITH a majority.

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