When Virginia court officials recommended that Prince William County get another state judge, Del. Floyd C. Bagley volunteered to take the issue to the General Assembly.
Nine days after he filed legislation to create the judgeship, Bagley went before the Prince William Bar with another announcement: He wanted to be the new judge.
His campaign, although rejected by the county's lawyers, has renewed criticisms by Virginia Republicans that Democratic lawyer-legislators like Bagley unfairly dominate the selection of state judges. Virginia judges are elected by the General Assembly in a controversial process that assures Democratic legislators control over the outcome.
Bagley, 57, a Dumfries lawyer and a member of the state legislature since 1976, said in an interview that he saw nothing wrong in seeking the $47,000-a-year judgeship. After all, he said, at his age is probably represented "my last chance to become a judge."
Had he won the bar's endorsement, Bagley said he would have never talken his seat in the assembly. Virginia law prohibits legislators from assuming a judgeship while serving in the assembly.
His judgeship bill had been "prefiled," however, with the House of Delegates nine days before the county bar's vote.That, some of the legislative critics said, placed Bagley in the position of campaigning for a job he was helping to create.
"It's not a matter of ethics," Bagley said yesterday, defending his actions. "It's a matter of chance. If there's anyone more ethical than I am, I'd like to know."
In Richmond, however, some legislators said they saw the issue differently.
"It's an odd and not quite proper way of doing thins," said one Democratic lawmaker, who asked not to be named. "The smart thing to have done would be to have someone else sponsor the bill. But this just doesn't look right."
"Oh, my God," exclaimed Del. Raymond R. Robrecht (R-Roanoke), when told of Bagley's actions. The Republican, who sits with Bagley on the House Courts of Justice Committee, which screens judicial candidates, called the Democrat's actions "a little strange" and said they raise "serious questions" about legislative ethics.
According to various Prince William County lawyers, there was nothing subdued about Bagley's efforts to win the bar's endorsement for the Circuit Court judgeship. Paul B. Ebert, the county's prosecutor, described Bagley's campaign as an "aggressive" one and said the legislator was upset at the outcome.
"Bagley doesn't like the way things went," Ebert said. When the members of the bar balked at the legislator's suggestion they forward the names of three candidates to the assembly, Bagley became angry, according to several lawyers at the meeting.
When the furor settled, the bar insisted that only one name go to Richmond, that of juvenile court judge Herman A. Whisenant, a man Bagly called unqualified for the higher court. According to bar officials, Whisenat's endorsement was overwhelming.
There were seven candidates for the judgeship, including Bagley, who was eliminated on the first ballot.
It's not the first time Bagley, a former military judge, has been involved in a job controversy. In 1976, after his election to the legislature, Bagley sougt an opinion from then attorney general Andrew P. Miller as to whether he would have to give up his job as a Prince William's county attorney before going to Richmond. Miller told Bagley he would.