One of the state legislators overseeing the selection of three judges for the 21st Judicial District said Tuesday that four people have been interviewed and certified to serve.
Assemblyman Les Adams (R-Chatham), chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees judicial appointments, said in an email that district Judge Marcus Brinks, Martinsville City Attorney Eric Monday and attorneys Kimberly Belongia and Jimmy McGarry were interviewed and determined capable to fill three openings.
These judgeships emerged because of a new opening starting July 1 in General District Court and the retirements of judges Bob Bushnell (in Juvenile and Domestic Relations court) and Martin F. Clark Jr. (Circuit Court). Ultimately all four candidates could be chosen.
“Earlier this month, each of these candidates were certified as qualified to serve on the court indicated, as was James R. McGarry … for the General District Court,” Adams said. “Mr. McGarry was interviewed by the panel last year near the end of session on the possibility that a newly created General District Court position would be funded in 2018. Ultimately, funding for that seat was appropriated in the budget to begin July 1, 2019.”
Adams said that these decisions largely fall to the legislative delegation representing a district. He said it’s common to interview candidates and consider many factors, including endorsements of local bar associations.
His comments followed the revelation that 20 members of Martinsville-Henry County Bar Association who voted at a special meeting Monday night rated Eric Monday as not qualified to serve on the bench, mirroring action taken last week by the Patrick County Bar.
Six members voted that Monday was highly qualified, and five found him qualified. One person abstained, according to an email bar association President Awbrey Watts sent to its members and obtained by the Martinsville Bulletin.
The email stated that Watts had sent these results, as well as the biography and resume of Monday, to the district’s state delegates (Danny Marshall, R-Danville; Charles Poindexter, R-Franklin County; and Adams) and to Sen. Bill Stanley (R-Franklin County).
When contacted by the Bulletin about her group’s vote on Monday, Watts responded with an email: “The Martinsville-Henry County Bar Association is not releasing results regarding how we voted on any of the candidates vying for the judgeships.”
When asked why the bar was being secretive about a public issue, she responded: “As previously stated, no results are being released regarding the voting. Otherwise I have no comment.”
Monday initially referred to a statement he had released Saturday, in which he said he found it “unethical for a judge to comment upon the judicial selection process, and I certainly believe that applies to me as well, as a candidate in this process. People entering a courtroom need to be assured that the person sitting there will hear their case respectfully, and decide their case free of any prejudice, bias, or preconceptions.”
Monday did confirm on Tuesday that he had been interviewed by the combined committee in the General Assembly and that “they have certified me as qualified for this position. I believe they certify only as either qualified or unqualified.”
Said Adams: “When the judicial applications are reviewed … the respective House and Senate Courts of Justice Committees vote to certify the list of those interviewed who are found to be qualified to serve on the court. Judges are ultimately elected when named on a resolution, following certification, that passes by a majority vote in both houses of the General Assembly.”
Poindexter, Marshall and Stanley did not respond immediately to requests for comment about the process.
Watts has said there is no requirement “for an individual to first submit their name to the bar.”
No other candidates were considered at Monday’s meeting, according to information obtained by the Bulletin. On Oct. 30, with 38 members present, the group had considered other candidates who had submitted their names for consideration.
According to an email sent members after that meeting, the bar voted:
General District Court: Dawn Futrell (18 highly qualified, 16 qualified, 1 not qualified, 3 abstentions), Jimmy McGarry (36 highly qualified, 1 qualified, 1 abstention), Andrew Nester (11 highly qualified, 21 qualified, 3 not qualified, 3 abstentions), Chris Roop (3 highly qualified, 9 qualified, 22 not qualified, 4 abstentions), Stephanie Vipperman (13 highly qualified, 20 qualified, 3 not qualified, 2 abstentions) and Joan Ziglar (6 highly qualified, 14 qualified, 14 not qualified, 4 abstentions).
Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court: Kim Belongia (34 highly qualified, 4 qualified), Tim Halpin (5 highly qualified, 18 qualified, 12 not qualified, 3 abstentions), Roop (2 highly qualified, 9 qualified, 22 not qualified, 5 abstentions), Heath Sabin (1 highly qualified, 12 qualified, 19 not qualified, 6 abstentions), Christina Slate (20 highly qualified, 14 qualified, 1 not qualified, 3 abstentions), Vipperman (6 highly qualified, 25 qualified, 3 not qualified, 4 abstentions), Watts (1 highly qualified, 17 qualified, 15 not qualified, 5 abstentions) and Ziglar (5 highly qualified, 12 qualified, 15 not qualified, 6 abstentions).
Circuit Court: Marcus Brinks (20 highly qualified, 14 qualified, 1 not qualified, 3 abstentions), Jimmy McGarry (36 highly qualified, 2 qualified), Nester (6 highly qualified, 20 qualified, 8 not qualified, 4 abstentions), Vipperman (4 highly qualified, 24 qualified, 5 not qualified, 5 abstentions) and Ziglar (2 highly qualified, 13 qualified, 17 not qualified, 6 abstentions).
After not voting on Monday’s candidacy at a meeting in October, the Patrick County Bar on Thursday unanimously approved a resolution finding Monday unqualified. That resolution cited that he had had not submitted a resume or otherwise requested consideration by the bar. But it said members were familiar with his record.
On Oct. 19 all members of that bar met in person or by proxy to rank candidates as “qualified,” “highly qualified” or “underqualified.” The bar then determined which candidates to endorse:
Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court: Qualified, Halpin and Vipperman; highly qualified, Belongia and Slate. Endorsed: Slate.
General District Court: Qualified, Nester; highly qualified, Futrell, McGarry and Vipperman. Endorsed: McGarry.
Circuit Court: Qualified, Brinks; highly qualified, Vipperman and McGarry. Endorsed: McGarry.
Monday holds bachelor’s and law degrees from the University of Virginia. He served as a clerk for Jackson Kiser, former chief judge for the U.S. Western District of Virginia, and worked in private practice before being hired as city attorney in 2003. He also served as Patrick County attorney in 2004-2008.
Adams wrote that there is an unusually high number of judges to be appointed across Virginia this session because, for the first time in many years, all vacant positions are funded.
“This includes the 21st Judicial Circuit and District courts that we successfully restored in the Code from their previous removal a few years ago,” he said. “This has been a priority of mine for the past several years and we are fortunate to be in this position now that funding is assured.”