The wife of a Virginia Democratic legislator is in line to be elected to a $55,000-a-year Richmond judgeship in a legislative action that has raised ethical questions about how the woman suddenly became the leading candidate.
The campaign for Phoebe Hall, a lawyer and wife of Del. Franklin P. Hall, "certainly raises the spectre of nepotism," Del. Joseph B. Benedetti (R-Richmond) said today.
Michael Morchower, a defense lawyer, was one of several lawyers who complained about maneuvers that brought Hall's sudden candidacy to the fore at a closed meeting of the House Courts of Justice Committee. "It smacks of politics," he said afterward.
Hall, a member of the influential House Appropriations Committee, said in an interview he has done nothing to promote his wife and partner in the firm of Hall & Hall. "You're not going to find one member who says I asked him to vote for her ," he said. "Obviously I know about it, I'm not estranged from my wife.
"None of this is unexpected," he said. "What am I going to do? Tell my wife she can't do it? Oh, no."
Phoebe Hall, 43, was an unsuccessful candiate last year for a circuit court appointment in Richmond. Her name never came before the assembly after the Bar Association of Richmond declined to endorse her. Hall said today "it will cost me financially" if his wife gets the appointment to a new, eighth seat on the General District Court here.
Hall, a delegate since 1977, said complaints about his wife stem from "frustrated supporters" of other candidates.
Phoebe Hall, a 1969 graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, said her husband has played no role in her efforts to be appointed to the bench. "I am absolutely appalled to even hear that suggestion," she said.
Morchower said the lawyer's marriage to a legislator should not disqualify her, but that the assembly should have taken more precautions to avoid even the appearance of conflicts of interest by following the usual nominating practices.
Morchower said the Richmond bar Association, normally consulted on all judicial appointments in the city, was not consulted on the new judgeship until today and only after the bar held a belated session on Saturday to nominate its own candidate.
Morchower and others complained that the new judgeship was approved late in the current session. The General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn Saturday.
Under Virginia law, legislators cannot be elected to any judgeship in their normal term in the assembly. While legislators' spouses can be elected judges, several officials said today they knew of no sitting member of the 140-member legislature whose spouse is on the bench.
One legislator who serves on the House Courts of Justice Committee said there would have been more of an outcry over Hall's candidacy, but that the Richmond Democratic delegation is supporting her. Any candidate who has the support of a local Democratic delegation can usually be assured of being appointed.
Del. Benjamin J. Lambert III (D-Richmond) said he has pushed Hall's nomination because of her qualifications and because the local bar has consistently rejected women. "People will look at it like a potential conflict but in all fairness, he did not lobby, he did not push it," he said.
Phoebe Hall was chosen in 1983 by the local circuit court judges to sit as a substitute judge in General District Court and has served about five days a month since then.
"I think you ought to realize that I have been practicing law in Richmond for 15 years," she said. "I would hope the legislature would give me no more consideration and certainly no less consideration because Frank is there."