Popularity, or Bipartisanship? Judgeship Tests the Waters
Thursday, November 22, 2007
Everyone in Alexandria seems to know the 6-2 lanky African American man with the salt-and-pepper hair.
Standing outside the Alexandria Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court recently, Chief Judge Nolan Dawkins constantly waved to people he knew across the brick courtyard or caught their eye as they walked past.
It's not surprising, considering that Dawkins, 59, grew up in Alexandria, attended the last segregated high school in the city, reared three daughters in the same house where he grew up and has been a juvenile court judge for 14 years.
Now Dawkins is engaged in his own big legal battle: trying for the second time to become Alexandria's first African American judge on the Circuit Court, the city's highest court.
With the retirement of Circuit Court Judge John E. Kloch, 66, at the end of the year, the General Assembly will need to fill a key judicial vacancy in Alexandria. Once again, Dawkins is a front-runner in the race.
The first time Dawkins tried for the job, in 2004, a fierce partisan battle erupted between Democrats and Republicans. Dawkins ended up withdrawing his name, and a compromise candidate was selected. The General Assembly votes on judges throughout the state, weighing recommendations of the local delegations.
Although the politics favor Dawkins this go-round with the recent election of a Democratic majority in the Virginia Senate, the emergence of another strong candidate, Alexandria General District Court Judge Becky Moore, has clouded the picture, as has the fact that the House of Delegates still has a Republican majority.
Three candidates have applied for the position: Dawkins, Moore and Timothy Battle, an Alexandria lawyer. Battle, 54, is favored by the Republican delegation and was its last-minute candidate against Dawkins in 2004, sparking the partisan battle.
"I hope we can make our determination based on merit this time and remove the politics of the situation," said Del. Brian J. Moran (D-Alexandria), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. "It was very disappointing what happened last time."
Moran said that when Democrats controlled the judicial selection process, they gave the recommendations of local delegations great weight. When Republicans had the majority, he said, they did an end run around the local delegation by nominating Battle, who had not gone through the vetting process.
Republicans countered that Democrats had excluded Republicans in their judicial appointments since the Civil War and that it was their turn to pick judges.
The standoff began when the all-Democratic Alexandria delegation selected Dawkins. Before legislators convened in Richmond, a separate Republican delegation of non-Alexandria members picked Battle. The Courts of Justice Committees, which make the final decision, were split between Senate Republicans who preferred Dawkins and House Republicans who wanted Battle.