An Alexandria theologian nominated to a Virginia judicial review commission tonight became an unwitting player in an angry game of legislative one-up-manship.
When the name of Marion Kelleran was presented to the state Senate for confirmation to the commission that reviews the conduct of judges in Virginia, nearly half of the senators present in the chamber got up and left.
"I was exasperated," said Sen. Joseph V. Gartlan, (D-Fairfax) one of those who walked out. He said his action and that of his colleagues had nothing to do with Kelleran, but was an expression of their distaste with the House of Delegates for "playing games with the public interest."
The senators who walked out said they had had no chance to look into Kelleran's qualifications because her name first came up only this morning when the House Democratic caucus approved her nomination to the commission.
With half of the 40 senators off the floor when her nomination was presented, only 20 yes votes went up on the electronic board in the chamber. Senators were then dispatched to bring in their colleagues for a second vote on the nomination.
Sen. Wiley F. Mitchell (R-Alexandria), who had left the chamber angry that, as a Republican he had not been told Kelleran was, returned to discover that she was from his home town.
"The woman was from Alexandria, but nobody told me," said Mitchell. He said it should have been "common courtesy" for some Democrat to tell him.
With the return of two senators to the chamber, Kelleran finally got enough votes to be chosen to the commission, which examines complaints about judges and recommends whether they should continue to sit on the bench. Kelleran is a former professor of theology at Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria and the first woman named to the commission.
Sen. Lawrence D. Wilder (D-Richmond) had joined his colleagues in walking out of the Senate and condemning the House for trying to pull a fast one. Wilder, the only black member of the Senate, said he found racial overtones to the speed with which the House Democratic Caucus pushed through the nomination. He said he would have like to have had a black nominated to the commission.
Gartlan, who refused to vote for Kelleran even on the second ballot, said he was growing "annoyed" at the House for "again trying to present us with a fait accompli."
But later Gartlan, looking weary from a day of haggling over abortion and rape legislation, said he wanted to express the Senate's regret to Kelleran that she had to be involved in the squabble.
She could not be reached for comment last night.