A bill in the Virginia House of Delegates that would make it easier for lawyers to shift their cases from one judge to another was introduced specifically because of attorney's objections to the courtroom conduct of Fairfax Chief Circuit Court Judge Barnard F. Jennings, according to state officials.
A high state official who follows judicial legislation closely said yesterday that when he was first shown the measure. "I asked them if that was the Barney Jennings bill and they said it was."
Discussion of the bill before the House Courts of Justice Committee on Tuesday turned into an unusual display of public criticism of sitting judge by two lawyers who practice before Jennings, Thomas Mains of Alexandria and Lois Miller of Vienna.
The attorneys who did not mention Jenning by name, testified in favor of the bill, which was introduced by Del. George E. Allen (D-Richmond), the committee chairman.
Miller reportedly complained that the judge in question was "rude" and that he does not like women.
"He does not like women attorneys or litigants." Miller reportedly said, "I see people coming into the courts that are treated like dogs. I mean dogs. It isn't right," she said.
Miller, 61, said tonight that she was not commenting on any specific judge during her testimony before the committee. Asked if she was denying that her remarks were about Jennings, she said, "I will not acknowledge or deny that."
Mains said he did not come to the meeting "to bad-mouth Jennings." But he said that when he finished his testimony in favor of Allen's bill, "some people asked me specific questions and I answered them."
"Good grief, I would never have come to the meeting to criticize Jennings. This is not an anti-jennings bill," Mains said yesterday. But he confirmed that Jennings was the subject of their complaints.
Asked for an example of the kind of conduct he was criticizing in Jennings, Mains referred to a medical malpractice suit he had been involved in three or four days had been scheduled for the trial. Jennings rushed the proceedings so that it lasted only 1 1/2 days.
"He runs you from 9 in the morning until 8 at night: he cuts you off in mid-sentence and the implication is that this isn't an important case so let's get it over with," Mains said.
Mains confirmed that he and Allen had discussed complaints about Jennings' courtroom behaviour several weeks ago but said he could not recall how the subject had arisen.
Asked if the crticism leveled against Jennings was accurate, another Fairfax lawyer who frequently practices before him said, "It's as accurate as hell!"
When asked about the unusual public criticism, Jennings said he was "surprised" and was not aware of any basis for the complaints. The Fairfax Circuit Court Judge said he had never received any private criticism similar to that voiced by the lawyers. Asked if he was aware of any court decisions involving Miller and Mains that might explain their criticism, Jenning replied, "No specific ones, no."
Jennings has been a Circuit Court judge in Fiarfax since 1964 and was re-elected to a new eight-year term in 1973. He is second in seniority on the 19th Circuit bench that serves Fairfax and Prince William counties.
Sen. Adelard L. Brault (D-Fairfax), the Senate majority leader and an influential leader int the selection of judes in Fairfax, said in an interview that Jennings' courtroom conduct has never been an issue in his elections by the General Assembly.
However, Brault said "some members of the Fairfax Bar have been critical of the manner in which he conducts trials. Some say he does not allow adequate time."