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Sunday, May 5, 2013
My friend and colleague Creigh Deeds argued correctly in his column that the General Assembly should base its decisions about creating and filling judgeships on objective criteria such as case-load statistics, population and geographic area served.
But the question posed by The Roanoke Times was whether the General Assembly should “move to a merit based system for selecting judges.” This is a very different question. The criteria used to decide whether or not to fill a vacancy are different than the criteria used to decide who fills that vacancy. While objective criteria should (and currently do) determine the former, there are subjective criteria that must be considered when determining the latter.
When selecting a judge, it is essential to consider objective qualities such as prior experience in the courtroom, knowledge of both civil and criminal matters, and experience as a lower court judge. Additionally, it is important to consider subjective qualities such as judicial temperament, involvement in one’s community and a general sense of fairness and mercy.
Measuring these qualities requires the input and advice of multiple sources, including legal associates, colleagues in the local bar and the general public. As the elected representatives of the people, Virginia’s delegates and senators have been entrusted with the responsibility to collect and weigh the information provided by these and other sources in order to make well-informed decisions.
Recognizing this public trust, these elected men and women take great care to evaluate all relevant factors when nominating a candidate. Input from the local bar is sought and welcomed in most circuits. Formalizing that role, as suggested by Deeds, would only add bureaucracy to the selection process. In addition, it would reduce the transparency and accountability that have been hallmarks of a process that has consistently resulted in the election of excellent judges across the commonwealth of Virginia.
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