After months of controversy, the Carter administration has indicated it will probably nominate a third, white, male lawyer backed by Sen. Harry F. Byrd Jr. (Ind.-Va.) for a federal judgeship in Virginia, a Byrd aide said yesterday.
Attorney General Griffin B. Bell told Byrd earlier this week that J. Harry Michael Jr., a Charlottesville lawyer and state senator, "probably would be nominated" to a new federal judgeship in the western judicial district of Virginia, according to Byrd's administrative assistant, Jack If. Davis.
Last December, President Carter threatened to leave four newly established federal judgeships in Virginia vacant unless Byrd altered his list of 10 white male nominees to include blacks and women. Since then, however, Carter has nominated two of Byrd's candidates, Richard L. Williams and James P. Jones, for federal judgeships.
Justice Department and White House officials said yesterday that they could not confirm that Michael would be named to a judgeship, although they acknowledged that Bell had talked with Byrd. It was also unclear whether Carter would nominate a Byrd candidate or would instead choose a black or female nominee for the fourth judgeship.
Byrd has refused to revise his two lists of judicial nominees, noting that they were recommended by special panels he created to select candidates. By setting up these citizens' commissions, Byrd said, he "did precisely what the president asked me to do." Davis said yesterday that Byrd was pleased that Michael appeared to be in line for a judgeship.
The judgeship dispute between Byrd and Carter has also led to a Senate Judiciary Committee stalemate. The Committee, headed by Sen Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) must confirm judicial appointments, but it has refused to act on the two Byrd-backed Virginia nominees so far. A committee source said yesterday, however, that hearings may be scheduled after Congress returns from its August recess, even if no black or female candidate is nominated.
Michael, 60, said yesterday that he had not been notified by the Justice Department or the White House that he might be selected for a judgeship, although he had heard rumors that a decision was imminent.
A partner in a Charlottesville law firm, Michael has been a state senator since 1968 and has been active in Democratic Party politics. He is unopposed for reelection this year in a senate district that includes Charlottesville and five neighboring counties.
The prospect that Michael might be appointed to the federal bench drew mixed reactions in Charlottesville legal circles yesterday, with some praising him as highly respected and scholarly and others questioning his qualifications for a judgeship.
"I should think he'd have judicial temperament," said A.E. Dick Howard, a University of Virginia law professor who specializes in constitutional law. "He would be stable and even tempered as a judge."
Michael, who has practiced law in Charlottesville since 1946, holds a bachelor of science and a law degree from the University of Virginia. He is a former president of the Charlottesville-area bar association and former vice president of the Virginia State Bar Association. He was a Charlottesville school board member for 12 years. CAPTION: Picture, J. HARRY MICHAEL . . . up for federal judgeship