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Legislators made a mess of judge vacancies. McDonnell has given them a chance to get it right.
Wednesday, March 27, 2013
Gov. Bob McDonnell has thrown the Roanoke Valley a lifeline with a budget amendment that would fill two out of three judicial vacancies in local courthouses. Now it’s up to the region’s lawmakers to organize themselves quickly and ensure that those seats are filled with qualified jurists.
When legislators gather in Richmond next week, they should approve the $1.8 million McDonnell is seeking to fill 11 vacancies across the state, including a circuit court and a juvenile and domestic relations judge for the 23rd Judicial District, which encompasses Roanoke, Roanoke County and Salem. The governor also seeks money for a general district judgeship in Montgomery County.
There is no guarantee that legislators will back the governor’s demand, and the Roanoke Valley delegation must take the lead in persuading colleagues that the additional funds are necessary.
Equally important, the regional delegation must come to agreement on candidates to fill the two Roanoke Valley seats. Del. Greg Habeeb, R-Salem, said Tuesday that the group has not met to discuss the issue and may not be able to reach consensus in time for candidates to be interviewed next week. If they cannot, McDonnell has the authority to name a temporary judge to the circuit seat, and judges in the circuit would choose a juvenile court judge.
That’s better than leaving courthouses short-staffed, but the optimal outcome would be for candidates to be elected by the legislature.
The Roanoke Bar Association has endorsed David Carson, chairman of the city school board, for the circuit seat and Leisa Ciaffone for the juvenile court judgeship. They are respected attorneys and well-qualified to take the bench.
The region’s lawmakers this year botched what should have been a top priority for the bipartisan group. Delegates won House support to fill one circuit and one juvenile judgeship, but senators managed to earmark funds only for the juvenile judge. All of that money evaporated during last minute, closed-door budget negotiations, leaving the Roanoke Valley in a predicament with the potential loss of two of its six circuit court judges. Local leaders and bar association officers warned that backlogs were inevitable, leaving civil and criminal cases in limbo for months.
That could still happen without some quick footwork by the region’s legislators.
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