Leaders of Richmond’s five biggest law firms are urging the city’s Circuit Court judges to do what the General Assembly would not: Appoint an openly gay man to the bench.
“We understand that the Court is considering appointing Tracy Thorne-Begland to the District Court for the City of Richmond,” read a letter the lawyers sent Tuesday. “We believe he would be an outstanding jurist and support his appointment.”
The General Assembly last month blocked Thorne-Begland’s appointment to the low-level District Court bench.
“There just seems to be, in my world, a pretty large majority of people of varying backgrounds that just believe this was the wrong decision,” said James V. Meath, one of the lawyers, who is chairman of the board at Williams Mullen and a former president of the Virginia Bar Association.
The other lawyers were former Virginia Attorney General Richard Cullen, Thurston R. Moore, John S. West and Thomas M. Wolf.
They sent the letter Tuesday to Richard D. Taylor Jr., presiding judge of the Circuit Court. The General Assembly appoints District Court judges, but if there is a vacancy when the legislature is not in session, Circuit Court judges make the appointment. That appointment is an interim one, lasting only until the next General Assembly session.
Thorne-Begland, a veteran Richmond prosecutor, declined to comment.
“He’s definitely a candidate and definitely interested,” said Sen. A. Donald McEachin (D-Henrico), one of Thorne-Begland’s supporters.
Even if Thorne-Begland wins the appointment, it’s not clear that he could convince the General Assembly to keep him in the post.
“This is the Republican establishment that can’t take a message,” said Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-Prince William), who led opposition to Thorne-Begland in the House and was running in Tuesday’s primary for U.S. Senate. “This is unbelievable arrogance. We went through this process, the House of Delegates said ‘no,’ we have the authority to do that, we found him wanting in judicial temperament. If they don’t like the outcome, they should run for delegate.”
Marshall and the Family Foundation of Virginia said last month that they did not object to Thorne-Begland because he is gay, but because of his outspokenness on the subject of gay rights. Thorne-Begland came out as a gay naval officer on “Nightline” 20 years ago to challenge the military’s now-defunct “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. He has supported gay marriage and is raising twins with his partner.
“He holds himself out as being married,” Marshall said during last month’s debate. Noting that Virginia’s Constitution bans gay marriage and civil unions, he said that Thorne-Begland’s “life is a contradiction to the requirement of submission to the Constitution.”