Five Northern Virginia Circuit Court judges were re-elected to eight-year terms to day by the General Assembly in its customary manner: largely secret and without public debate.
The controversy surrounding the selection of local judges in past years, when legislators fought over the seats or deadlocked over the appointment of law partners of fellow delegates was absent.
The Assembly re-elected without dissent Franklin P. Backus and Wiley R. Wright Jr., of Alexandria, and Burch Millsap, Lewis D. Morris and Percy Thornton Jr., of the Fairfax Circuit, which also includes Prince William County.
The Assembly elected Arlington General District Court Judge Joseph bench. He was oppointed to the court last month by the Arlington Circuit Court judges after the death of Judge Thomas W. Dodge, Gwaltney is a former Arlington Circuit Court clerk.
The judges were screened by the Courts of Justice Committees of both houses before their selection. Both meetings were closed to the public.
The state Constitution provides for election of judges by the full Assembly. Republicans and independents, however, are effectively excluded from the process by the Democratic caucus of each house. The Democrats, who hold overwhelming majorities in each house vote on judges in their caucuses, which have traditionally been closed when controversies arise, and then agree to back the caucus winner in elections by the full House and Senate. This prevents a minority of Democrats from joining Republicans and independents to upset the caucus choice.
In response to mounting criticism of closed caucuses meetings, the Democrats opened their sessions to the public last year, but when a controversy arose this time over a judgeship in Southwest Virginia, the Democrats reverted to their previous practice.
This procedure has been criticized by Republicans and others and along standing proposal to broaden the judical election process by creating an advisory commission to recommend new judges is gaining some support in the Assembly . Sen. William F. Parkerson Jr. chairman of the Senate Courts of Justice Committee, has introduced a bill that would create such acommission . However, it is expected to meet strong opposition in the House.
The election of judges throughout the state was carried out during Senate and House of Delegate sessions that recessed just before noon to permit legislators to watch the inaugural address of president Carter.
The Assembly members watched the speech on television sets in the Senate Chamber and the Capitol snack bar. When it was over, there were speeches in both houses wishing the new administration well.
Sen. Adelard L. Brault (D-Fairfax), the Senate majority leader, recalled the "gracious message of support" sent to Carter by Gov. Mills E. Godwin after the election and said, "As leader of the Democratic majority in the Virginia Senate, I also pledge our prayers for the success of this administration."
Godwin, a Republican, who honorary chairman of the President Ford Committee in Virginia during the election campaign. His success in wining backing for Ford from conservative Democrats is codered by campaign officals to have been one of the key factors in Ford's narrow victory in Virginia.
In the House, Del. Archibald A. Campbell (D-Wytheville) took note of the fact that Virginia was the only state of the Old Confederacy that did not vote for Carter. "I regret that Virginia seceded from the South," he said.
Del. Raymond E. Vickery Jr. (D-Fairfax) called the Carter inauguration a "great day for Southerners, black and white."
He said it "symbolizes the end of a chapter of U.S. history" in which Southerners were widely perceived as lacking "the will to achieve and the will to solve problems."
Del. James M. Thomson (D-Alexandria), the House majority leader, moved that the House adjourn for the day in honor of Carter's inauguration. There were a few good natured "no" votes called out by some of the 17 Republicans in the 100-member House.