One seated judge, a city attorney and two other local lawyers are steps closer to being chosen to fill openings in the 21st Judicial District.
District Judge Marcus Brinks, Martinsville City Attorney Eric Monday, Jimmy McGarry and Kimberly Belongia have gone through bar evaluations and the first rounds of vetting in Richmond before they might be approved for the seats.
The three judgeships emerged because of a new opening in General District Court and the retirements of judges Bob Bushnell (in Juvenile and Domestic Relations court) and Martin F. Clark (Circuit Court).
The Senate Committee for Courts of Justice and the House Judicial Panel interviewed Monday, Brinks and Belongia on Jan. 25, according to a General Assembly document. McGarry is a holdover candidate. The committee would pass along its choices for the openings for final approval by the full General Assembly.
Brinks is likely to be elected to replace Clark and Monday is likely to be elected to replace Brinks. Belongia is likely to replace Bushnell, Martinsville Commonwealth’s Attorney Andy Hall said.
“Jimmy McGarry was in the running for an open judgeship during the last round of nominations, and I feel most people believe he will be appointed to the District Court during this round of nominations,” Wren Williams, a lawyer in Patrick County, wrote in an email.
McGarry said Thursday he was interested but thought it was premature to comment, because the General Assembly has not appointed the judges.
“It’s no secret I have expressed interest in being elected a judge,” he said.
Belongia confirmed that “I have expressed an interest in that position” and that she was interviewed in January. She said she was “cautiously optimistic.”
“I’ve had no further contact,” she said. “I don’t know if I’m going to get it. … It’s not certain until it’s voted on.”
Belongia said she has been an attorney in Martinsville for about 23 years, and her practice primarily has been in Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court. “I have handled all the kinds of cases in that court,” she said.
Belongia also has served as a substitute judge for about 14 years, primarily in the 21st District but also some in Franklin and Roanoke counties. She resides in Collinsville.
A brief bio of McGarry submitted to the Patrick County Bar Association indicates that he moved to Martinsville after obtaining a law degree in 1993 and since that time has been practicing law with the firm now known as Young, Haskins, Mann, Gregory, McGarry & Wall, P.C., where he is a partner.
His practice has always centered on a full menu of legal disciplines. He has practiced in all the courts of this judicial circuit and has argued cases to the Virginia Court of Appeals and the Virginia Supreme Court.
Neither Monday nor Brinks could be reached for comment.
Monday was hired as city attorney in 2003. His bio on the city’s website said he earned his law degree in 1995 and clerked for Jackson Kiser, then chief U.S. District judge for Western Virginia, before going into private practice. He also serves as general counsel to the Blue Ridge Regional Airport Authority.
Brinks has served as General District Court judge since July 1, 2016. His bio says he served nine years on active duty with the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps before entering private practice and serving as Patrick County’s chief deputy commonwealth’s attorney (part-time from 1996 to June 2000 and full-time from July 2000 to 2016).
Chris Corbett, president of the Patrick County Bar Association, said his group met Oct. 19 to rank candidates for particular judgeships as “qualified,” “highly qualified” or “underqualified” and then chose the group’s most desirable candidates. The group rated Belongia and McGarry as highly qualified and Brinks as qualified for judgeships and voted to endorse McGarry for both the General District and Circuit Court seats.
“I am advised that Eric Monday is being considered by the General Assembly (for a judgeship),” Corbett said. “He has not submitted his name to the Patrick County Bar Association for a ranking. … As a result, the bar association has not had a chance to evaluate his qualifications.
“As far as someone trying to bypass the process and become a judge without input from bars that know them best, I would characterize the Patrick County Bar Association as opposed and appalled.”
Awbrey Watts, president of the Martinsville-Henry County Bar Association, said her group has a similar process but that there was no requirement “for an individual to first submit their name to the bar.”
She would not disclose how her group had voted and said “the bar leadership has not been notified by any legislators of who they are considering or when they are going to appoint.”
Hall said it’s not unprecedented for the General Assembly to consider someone who has not been vetted by a bar association. He said the District Court judgeship for which Monday is being considered will become available if Brinks is elected Circuit Court judge.
He said he believes there would not have been enough time for Monday to be considered by local bar associations before the legislature adjourns. He also said he knows Monday, Brinks, McGarry and Belongia and that they are all imminently qualified.