By Eric Branscom, Jonathan Rogers and James C. Turk Jr.
Brancom is Commonwealth’s Attorney for Floyd County. Rogers and Turk are attorneys in the New River Valley.
We are two lifelong Republicans, one lifelong Democrat, two career defense attorneys with more than three decades of practice in the New River and Roanoke Valleys and one career prosecutor in the New River Valley and Roanoke Valley with more than three decades of prosecutions.
We have appeared in front of Judge Marc Long hundreds of times and before over a hundred other judges. We know Judge Long to be one of the finest jurists before whom we have practiced. We know Judge Long to be learned, hard-working, compassionate, dedicated and yes, tough, and tough on those lawyers who appear before him unprepared, habitually late, and who routinely misrepresent law and facts to him. We appreciate that toughness.
Beyond his superior performance as a Judge over the last sixteen (16) years Judge Long has created Drug Courts in Pulaski, Floyd and Montgomery Counties. Through the Drug Courts his efforts and devotion to providing a path forward for those who through their addiction and misfortune have come before him for violations of the law, Judge Long has guided these participants to their redemption and allowed them to once again participate positively in our communities and within their families.
In large part because of his establishment of a family drug treatment program when he served the Commonwealth as a Juvenile and Domestic Relations District judge and the four (4) drug courts, he also, established, in 2016 Judge Long was one of the few circuit court judges that have ever been named as one of Virginia’s “Leaders in the Law” by Virginia Law Weekly.
A few words about the “Performance Evaluations” upon which Del. Chris Hurst, D-Montgomery, relies. First and foremost, these evaluations were never intended to be used to justify the removal of a judge. They were intended as a type of feedback to help judges improve their performance in court. These evaluations are badly flawed when used for the wrong purpose. Judge Long received good or excellent evaluations in 21 of the 24 categories in the performance evaluations. All three of us have rated Judge Long as excellent in all categories, after hundreds of appearances in front of him but our evaluations are counterbalanced by attorneys who have appeared in front of him as few as three times. As a result these anonymous evaluations do not reflect an accurate account of a judge’s performance and often serve as no more than a gripe session for those attorneys who have not fared well before a judge, often because of their own shortcomings.
To the three of us it is disturbing that Del. Hurst, who with a very short time living in the New River Valley and even shorter time in the service of our Commonwealth, has decided to be the architect of the end of a distinguished jurist’s career, one who has served the Commonwealth for decades in several capacities and who is a lifelong resident of the New River Valley. Certainly, we would hope, he would have consulted with those who know the judge best — the clerks, lawyers and the law enforcement officers who are in his court on a regular basis.
Unfortunately this is not the case, as there was no discussion with the local bar associations, the sheriff’s offices or with the court clerks. Del. Hurst made this determination entirely on his own for his own political reasons. Moreover, when the news of this blatantly political decision became known to the public, Del. Hurst refused to respond to a myriad of letters and phone calls from concerned citizens, and including the Floyd County Board of Supervisors, the Pulaski County Administrators and Supervisors, the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department, the Floyd County Sheriff’s Department, the Floyd County Bar Association, the Floyd County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office, and the Floyd County Commonwealth’s Attorney, directing his staff to simply tell those requesting to discuss the reappointment of Judge Long with him that Del. Hurst is “too busy” or that he does not represent them and, in particular, Floyd County.
More than 50 prominent and experienced lawyers who have practiced before Judge Long have signed a letter strongly supporting Judge Long’s reappointment.
In closing, the manner in which Judge Long’s dedicated and honorable service is being ended at the hands of a single delegate who clearly has little understanding of the significant and excellent performance by Judge Long on the bench is a travesty.