The nomination of the wife of a Virginia Democratic legislator to a $55,000-a-year judgeship in Richmond ran into serious trouble today as top Democratic and Republican legislators questioned the propriety of the allowing the woman to win the political appointment.
Speaker A.L. Philpott (D-Henry), said to be embarrassed over the issue, summoned Del. Franklin P. Hall to his office for a closed but heated meeting about the candidacy of his wife, Phoebe Hall, to the Richmond General District Court.
Philpott declined to discuss the meeting, which was punctuated by raised voices that could be heard in a hallway and set off a flurry of activity within the General Assembly over the appointment. The legislature adjourns Saturday and, unless it fills the judgeship, Richmond's chief circuit court judge could make the appointment.
Until the furor over Phoebe Hall's candidacy erupted yesterday, it appeared likely that she would win the seat since she was the nominee of Richmond's Democratic delegation. Typically the Democratic nominees win judicial elections in the Assembly since Democrats control both houses of the legislature and vote in a bloc on all judgeships.
Today new objections were raised about Phoebe Hall's nomination. "It smells," said Del. Theodore V. Morrison Jr. (D-Newport News), a key member of the House Courts of Justice Committee, which reviews the judicial appointments. He was instrumental in 1984 in blocking the appointment of Phoebe Hall to another judgeship in Richmond.
"I would think it's not inspiring all the confidence in the world," said Sen. William F. Parkerson Jr. (D-Henrico), chairman of the Senate Courts of Justice Committee. "I would think it's unusual."
Former state attorney general J. Marshall Coleman of McLean, a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, said the Hall controversy is an example of the partisan way in which Democrats, who control the legislature, appoint judges.
Both Coleman and House Minority Leader Vincent F. Callahan (R-Fairfax) said the state should find a new way to select judges. "It's a farce," Callahan said.
The judgeship appointment, coming in the closing days of the session, has drawn fire from members of the Bar Association of Richmond and other lawyer groups, which contend the appointment of Hall was set in motion before they had a chance this week to nominate other candidates.
Phoebe Hall was not considered by the Bar Association, which traditionally recommends candidates to the General Assembly and this week nominated J. Stephen Buis for the judgeship.
One influential legislator close to both Halls said privately that he thought Phoebe Hall should withdraw from the contest because of the appearance of unfair influence and questions about whether the new seat was properly advertised to Richmond's lawyers.
Hall, who has insisted that he had played no role in his wife's effort to be chosen by the General Assembly, spent much of the day conferring privately about the nomination with legislators from Richmond.
Hall said he was only answering questions about the issue and not lobbying for his wife. "Are you suggesting I shouldn't respond to a call by the speaker?" he asked at one point. "I wanted to avoid even the appearance of conflict."
Hall also denied published reports that Richmond Commonwealth Attorney Aubry Davis, another candidate for the judgeship, said Hall told him not to bother seeking the post because his wife was going to get it. "That's ludicrous," Hall said