Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, bypassing the recommendation of Northern Virginia legislators, appointed Fairfax County General District Court Judge Marcus D. Williams yesterday to fill the vacancy on the county's Circuit Court bench, making Williams the circuit's first black judge.
The appointment was greeted with surprise by several members of the Northern Virginia legislative delegation, which last week recommended Gerald Bruce Lee, an Alexandria lawyer, who is also black and was seen as having extensive experience in civil and criminal litigation.
State Sen. Joseph V. Gartlan Jr. (D-Mount Vernon) said the fact that the governor did not follow the delegation's recommendation may lead to a fight when the legislature convenes in January.
The appointment of Williams, who will fill the vacancy created when Judge Lewis H. Griffith retires Oct. 1, is temporary because it was made while the General Assembly was out of session. Interim appointments of judges require confirmation by the General Assembly.
"I am honored by the governor's appointment," Williams said. "I have the ability to give something to the Circuit Court . . . . I look at myself as a career judge as long as the bar and the General Assembly will have me."
Legislators said the delegation's endorsement vote was extremely tight, and Gartlan said he will see how strongly members of the delegation feel before deciding whether to mount a challenge. "Part of the problem is they are fine candidates. It's a difficult choice, and we were closely divided in the delegation."
"We have had these vacancies come up before and the governors in the past have generally been willing to take our recommendations. I don't know why Governor Wilder departed from that pattern, why he disagreed with that choice," said Gartlan. "I'll wait to hear his reason.
"The governor wrote and solicited our advice, as his predecessors have done. He's constitutionally free to ignore it, reject it. That he did is surprising."
Laura Dillard, Wilder's spokeswoman, said the governor took into consideration more than the delegation's recommendation in making his selection, including the vote by the Fairfax County Bar Association, which endorsed both candidates. In that vote, Williams had a slight edge.
"The governor is charged with making the appointment because the Genral Assembly is not in session," said Dillard. "He had two outstanding candidates. I think his statement reflects his respect for the fact that Mr. Williams has already seved three years as a judge."
Williams, a 1977 graduate of Catholic University's law school, spent two years as an assistant commonwealth's attorney and seven years as an assistant attorney in the County Attorney's Office. For 10 years he has taught at George Mason University. When he was appointed to the General District Court, the lower court in Fairfax, in 1987 he became the county's first black judge.
Williams did not comment on the matter of his race other than to say, "While I think diversity is an important consideration, I also believe qualifications are important."
Lee could not be reached for comment. Chief Judge Richard J. Jamborsky said yesterday that Williams "is an excellent, excellent judge and a fine person. I think he's going to be a strong addition to the bench here."