RICHMOND, Jan. 18 -- Republicans in the General Assembly blocked the selection of two Northern Virginia judges Tuesday, renewing an annual debate in Virginia government about how judicial appointments are made.
The House and Senate rejected Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge R. Terrence Ney, the choice of a bipartisan group of Northern Virginia legislators, for a seat on the state Court of Appeals, while House delegates declined to reappoint Alexandria Circuit Court Judge Lisa B. Kemler, who had been tapped by Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) last year to serve on the bench.
Virginia is one of only a few states that give their legislatures sole control over choosing judges. The House and Senate, which both have a Republican majority, must come to an agreement in selecting judges.
Lawmakers from Northern Virginia backed Ney for a seat on the Court of Appeals left vacant by the retirement of Judge Rosemarie Annunziata.
Kemler had the support of Democratic lawmakers in the House and Senate, as well as Senate Republicans, who said they would back the choice of Alexandria's legislative delegation.
Kemler will have to step down next month but can be reappointed by Warner soon after.
Instead of Ney, the General Assembly selected Stafford Circuit Court Judge James W. Haley Jr. for the vacant Court of Appeals seat. Haley, a law school roommate of House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford), was presented to Republican lawmakers by Howell and Sen. John H. Chichester, also a Stafford County Republican, as the GOP leadership's choice for the judgeship, according to delegates.
Republican and Democratic lawmakers from Northern Virginia said that Haley's selection violated an informal agreement among Republicans to allow each of the state's 11 congressional districts an opportunity to have a judge on the Court of Appeals.
They said that Ney's selection should have been approved in part because of this informal rule.
Both candidates were deemed to be qualified in previous years by a state committee that certifies judges for Court of Appeals appointments.
"It's certainly disappointing. . . . We thought he had what we consider to be one of the best judges in the state, and one that received support from both Democrats and Republicans," said Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax), referring to Ney. "But when you have the two most powerful legislators saying, 'This is the guy that we want,' there isn't much that I can say as Dave Albo to change other people's minds."
Howell said his support for Ney was based on merit, and that each candidate was qualified.
"I supported Judge Haley because he was the best qualified," Howell said, adding that his previous relationship with Haley did not play a factor in his decision.
Chichester was unavailable for comment.
Virginia Democrats were more caustic in their remarks about the judicial process, which often involves political squabbles between the House and Senate and between Republicans and Democrats.
"This smacks of cronyism," said Sen. Janet D. Howell (D-Fairfax), who sits on the Senate Courts of Justice Committee.
"This was a disappointing day for the process," said Del. Brian J. Moran (Alexandria), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, who supported both Ney and Kemler.
In Kemler's case, House Republicans refused to agree to the reappointment because they hope to appoint their own candidate, Fairfax attorney Timothy Battle, to her seat. They have been unable to do so because Senate Republicans continue to abide by their chamber's rules, which allow lawmakers from Alexandria to select their own candidate, regardless of party affiliation.
Neither Ney nor Kemler returned phone messages left at their offices Tuesday.