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Legislators weigh factors on judge
When appointing Warren's successor

Thursday, February 14, 2013

By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer

The Martinsville-Henry County Bar Association’s recommendation to fill the vacancy created when Judge Junius Warren retires April 1 is among several factors legislators will consider in appointing a replacement.

The bar recommendation is “not the be all and end all,” said state Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Glade Hill, who also serves on the Senate Courts of Justice Committee. “Their recommendation is important, but it is one of many factors” legislators in the General Assembly will take into account before making the appointment.

Del. Don Merricks said the local association’s recommendation will not be the only one considered for the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court judgeship.

The Courts of Justice Committee will interview candidates and also make a recommendation to legislators, “along with anybody else that wants to make a recommendation,” said Merricks, R-Pittsylvania County. “But pretty much what the bar says carries some weight.”

Forty members of the local bar association met with the six candidates interested in the post, and ranked them as qualified, highly qualified and unqualified, according to bar officials.

Martinsville attorney Kimberly Belongia was ranked as highly qualified by 29 peers, qualified by 10 and unqualified by one, according to the tally sheet sent to legislators.

Attorney Alan Black, who is Patrick County’s lawyer, received 18 votes as highly qualified, 14 as qualified, six as unqualified and two abstained, according to the tally, which also showed Patrick County Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Marcus Brinks was ranked third, with 11 highly qualified votes, 18 qualified, six unqualified and five abstentions.

Henry County Commonwealth’s Attorney Bob Bushnell was listed next, with 14 highly qualified votes, 17 qualified, five unqualified and four abstaining, the tally showed.

Timothy Halpin received five highly qualified, 10 qualified, 13 unqualified and 12 abstaining, and Assistant Henry County Commonwealth’s Attorney Wayne Withers Jr. received five votes as highly qualified, 12 as qualified, 19 as unqualified and four members abstaining, the tally showed.

Del. Danny Marshall, R-Danville, said the next step in the process requires candidates to submit an application to the Division of Legislative Services, which “will look at the information and make sure it is all correct.”

Legislators representing the 21st Judicial District (Marshall, Stanley and Merricks and Del. Charles Poindexter) “will get together and talk to all the candidates — sometimes individually and sometimes as a group — (and) either choose one or two people (candidates) to come up to Richmond and go before the Courts Committee,” Marshall said.

The candidates will be certified by the committee, and then local delegates will vote on them, Marshall said. Ultimately, the House and Senate must approve judicial appointments.

As for the bar association’s recommendation, “sometimes we take it and sometimes we don’t, but I guess in the vast majority of times across the state, (such recommendations are) taken very seriously,” Marshall said.

He is hopeful that a decision will be made before the General Assembly adjourns its short session Feb. 23, and he also hopes that a situation that occurred in the Senate last year does not repeat itself.

Marshall explained that when the Senate finally decided to vote on judgeships last year, there was a 20-20 split, and the vote was passed over until this session because Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling is unable to break ties in appointing judges or on the budget.


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