By Chris L. Jenkins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 3, 2006
RICHMOND, March 2 -- Republicans in the Virginia General Assembly have blocked the selection of a Fairfax County judge to the state Court of Appeals for a second consecutive year, reigniting a debate at the state Capitol about how judicial appointments are made.
The Republican caucuses of the Senate and House of Delegates voted to support Lynchburg Commonwealth's Attorney William G. Petty and former Virginia attorney general Randolph A. Beales to fill two vacancies on the court. The nominations are likely to go to the floors of the two GOP-controlled chambers Friday, but the caucuses' vote was binding and is unlikely to change, several delegates said Thursday.
Virginia is one of a few states that give their legislatures sole control over choosing judges.
In reviewing the five candidates for the judgeships, the Republicans rejected Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge R. Terrence Ney, who was the choice of a group of Northern Virginia GOP legislators and several other Republicans.
Several Republican delegates from the Washington suburbs said they were outvoted by GOP delegates from other parts of the state who supported their own regional candidates. They said the selections violated an informal agreement among Republicans that each of Virginia's 11 congressional districts would be represented on the state Court of Appeals.
"It's all regionalism," said Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax), chairman of the House Courts of Justice Committee. He said that with a dwindling number of Republicans in Northern Virginia -- the GOP lost two seats in the region in November -- Ney did not have enough support from other parts of the state. "Nobody, in my opinion, voted on qualifications. They looked at, instead, getting someone from their region on the Court of Appeals, and that's why you have Beales and Petty."
Albo said that neither Beales, of the Richmond area, nor Petty had submitted to the traditional review by the state bar, although they did receive favorable reviews from a citizens review panel run by former attorney general Richard Cullen.
Ney declined to comment.
A half-dozen lawmakers described him as an accomplished state judge who helped establish the Court of Appeals 20 years ago.
It was the second time that Ney was passed over. Last year, he was the only announced candidate when Republicans in the House nominated another candidate. Ney, 61, joined the Fairfax bench in 1999 after spending much of his private practice in the appellate courts.
"They selected two individuals who are capable but easily identified with the Republican Party," said Del. Brian J. Moran (D-Alexandria), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. "It's the introduction of partisan politics in the selection process."
Several lawmakers said that because each candidate was deemed qualified, there was no abrogation of any laws or rules. And they dismissed the concerns of Northern Virginia lawmakers about regional representation.
"What happens is that when you have qualified candidates in place, other things come into play, and that's no different than the 15 years I've been here," said Sen. Kenneth W. Stolle (R-Virginia Beach), chairman of the Senate Courts of Justice committee. "The beauty is in the eye of the beholder."
Staff writer Tom Jackman contributed to this report.