As the 2003 session of the Virginia General Assembly reaches its midpoint, Republican legislators seem determined to establish an ideological test for the reappointment of state judges. Consider:
A panel to interview judges facing reappointment by the assembly's Republican majority plucked two dissenting opinions from more than 600 issued by state Court of Appeals Judge Rosemarie Annunziata during her eight years on the bench. When this tactic was exposed, the panel then grilled the judge about a custody opinion in which she wrote that the trial judge had applied different standards to evaluate the parents' sexual behavior. (Both parents had had extramarital affairs with females.)
Faced with overwhelmingly positive testimony and growing media scrutiny, the panel ultimately voted to retain Annunziata.
The same panel questioned Virginia Supreme Court Justice Barbara Keenan about a dissent she wrote in a case involving the removal of a child from her mother's custody solely because the mother was a lesbian. Keenan was reappointed, but not before some Republican legislators made their views on homosexuality clear.
The Republicans next went after Verbena Askew, the first African American female circuit court judge in Virginia. Askew, a "law and order" judge, came before the House and Senate Courts of Justice committees for appointment to a second term. In a seven-hour hearing, Askew was questioned about a settlement between the city of Hampton and a female employee who had filed a sexual harassment complaint against her. Askew had urged the city not to settle and did not participate in the settlement. An independent review found the complaint to be unfounded.
Charging that she had not been forthcoming about the settlement and a confidentiality agreement, Republican legislators engineered Askew's defeat. She was never questioned about any of the 12,000 cases she has adjudicated.
Only three judges faced such extraordinary treatment. All were women, and all the interrogations involved sexual matters, especially homosexuality. Annunziata says she will not be intimidated, but what about the state's hundreds of lower court judges? Every time a judge feels pressured to consider ideology in addition to the law and the facts, judicial independence is threatened.
Virginia's founders risked their lives, their fortunes and their honor for the rule of law. It is our duty to safeguard it.
-- Brian J. Moran
a Democrat, represents Alexandria
in the Virginia House of Delegates
and is a member of the House
Courts of Justice Committee.