Democrats in the Virginia House of Delegates approved 10 nominees to the state's new Intermediate Court of Appeals yesterday, apparently clearing the way for the judges to take office later this month.
Among the 10 nominees are Circuit Court Judges Charles Duff of Arlington and Barbara Kennan of Fairfax. The list also includes a black, Richmond lawyer James Benton. Their nominations had been jeopardized after infighting erupted among Senate Democrats, who also must approve the nominees.
Sen. Peter K. Babalas (D-Norfolk), one of the Democrats who had blocked election of the judges, said yesterday that he expects the compromise to be approved by Senate Democrats when they meet Dec. 7.
"I believe what's been done lays the controversy to rest and that we'll have a special session" to fill the judgeships, said Babalas.
The General Assembly elects all state judges in Virginia. Because Democrats are heavily in the majority in both houses, they effectively control judicial nominations by binding Democratic legislators to vote en bloc on all judgeships.
"I think it is the feeling of the House that we should have a special session because the court is supposed to begin sitting Jan. 1," House Majority Leader Tom Moss of Norfolk said.
He said the special session could be held the same day as the Senate Democratic caucus.
Democratic Gov. Charles S. Robb could also appoint the judges approved by the Democratic caucuses, eliminating the need for a special session.
The governor said yesterday he would make interim appointments if both House and Senate Democrats can agree on the 10 nominees.
The intermediate appeals court was created in 1983 by the assembly to relieve the logjam of cases before the Virginia Supreme Court, which has one of the largest backlog of any such court in the nation.
Sen. William Fears (D-Accomack) has filed a bill for the 1985 session that would repeal the intermediate court. But he acknowledged that if the judges are named before the session convenes Jan. 9, his bill will have no chance of passage.
Earlier this year, House and Senate Democrats could agree to only four nominees.
They were Judge Joseph Baker of Norfolk, Judge Bernard Barrow of Virginia Beach, Judge Samuel Coleman III of Gate City and Judge Lawrence Koontz of Salem.
The judicial slate adopted by the House Democratic caucus yesterday includes three on the original House list and three on the original Senate list.
Those on the House list were Duff, Keenan and Benton. The Senate list included Judge E. Ballard Baker of Henrico County, Judge Norman Moon of Lynchburg and Judge William Hodges of Chesapeake.