U.S. District Judges Albert V. Bryan Jr. of Alexandria and J. Calvitt Clark of Norfolk have emerged as front-runners for a vacancy on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, several lawyers familiar with the selection process said this week.
The appeals court seat became available last month with the retirement of Judge John D. Butzner of Richmond. Butzner took senior status, which means he will continue to participate occasionally in the court's decisions.
Seats on the 10-member appellate panel traditionally are allocated evenly among the five states that make up the 4th Circuit--Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia and North and South Carolina. The seat held by Butzner historically has been filled by a judge from the eastern half of Virginia.
Although senators from any of the five states may put forward candidates' names, it would be rare for the selection process to be changed.
Sen. John W. Warner, who as Virginia's senior Republican senator will have a key role in who gets the nomination, has said he will present a list of candidates for the job to the Reagan administration. Warner has declined comment on the process, but an aide said this week the list would be submitted "hopefully before the first of the year."
Appeals court appointments, which require a presidential nomination and Senate confirmation, traditionally follow partisan lines, depending on who controls the White House. A White House selection committee, including Reagan aides James Baker and Edwin Meese and Attorney General William French Smith, is to consider the appointments.
The selection procedure has fueled speculation in Northern Virginia about prospects that U.S. Attorney Elsie L. Munsell of Alexandria might follow either Bryan or Clark to the federal bench. Munsell, 43, a former U.S. magistrate, took herself out of the running for a similar post 18 months ago in favor of the chief prosecutor's job.
Bryan and Clark have indicated an interest in the appellate position and both have been endorsed by bar associations in their areas.
Clark, a wealthy 62-year-old Republican, was a lawyer in Richmond for about 30 years before being appointed to a District Court judgeship in Norfolk eight years ago.
Bryan, 56, is a Democrat, but was named to the U.S. District Court in Alexandria by President Nixon in 1971, a time when Southern conservatives like Bryan were closely allied with the Republican Party. Bryan, who previously served as a state judge in Fairfax County for nine years, was elevated to the federal bench with support from Sen. Harry F. Byrd Jr. and former Republican representative Joel T. Broyhill.
Bryan's 83-year-old father, Albert V. Bryan Sr., is currently a senior 4th Circuit judge with offices in Alexandria. Whether he would be required to step aside, were his son appointed, was not clear.
A third U.S. District Court judge, D. Dortch Warriner, 53, a Southside Virginia Republican, was said to have withdrawn his name from consideration. Some observers said the decision was influenced by a September dispute in open court in Richmond between Warriner and a black assistant U.S. attorney who accused the judge of exhibiting racial prejudice in his sentences, a charge Warriner denied.