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Roanoke lucked out with two qualified judges, but the election system needs reform.
Sunday, April 7, 2013
Kudos to the Roanoke Valley’s General Assembly delegation for eventually coming together this week behind two capable candidates to fill critical judgeships in local courthouses.
And an extra round of applause for state Sens. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, and Ralph Smith, R-Bedford County, who stood up against Wednesday’s late-night attempt by Senate Republican leaders to scuttle the election of a circuit judge in the 23rd Judicial Circuit.
The bipartisan teamwork was essential to securing the election of Roanoke’s David Carson to the circuit court and Salem’s Leisa Ciaffone to the juvenile and domestic relations court. Carson and Ciaffone are highly-regarded attorneys worthy of the public’s trust, and the Roanoke Valley will be fortunate to have them on the bench.
But the appointment of high-caliber judicial candidates such as Carson and Ciaffone should not be left to the whims of a part-time legislature, as tired and cranky lawmakers demonstrated again Wednesday night. Even after they approved funding for the positions, Senate GOP leaders tried to strip circuit court judgeships in the Roanoke Valley and Fairfax County from a slate of vacancies that lawmakers were poised to fill.
Senate Republican Leader Tommy Norment said the two circuits “did not meet the workload indicators” the Senate has used to fill vacant judgeships, an argument that should have been made before lawmakers approved the funding.
Edwards pointed out that the workload data is flawed. A new, weighted caseload study by the state Supreme Court should privde more objective measures of the demands on local courts. For now, the 23rd Circuit will be stressed by the retirement of two of the court’s six judges.
Smith usually leaves judicial fights to the lawyers in the legislature. But, he said Wednesday night, he had gotten an earful from lawyers and others who work in the court about the need to appoint a new circuit judge, and he knew they were right.
Edwards said he has never had to work so hard to get judges appointed, partly because he had to scrape for money this time. The effort paid off with the election of two well-qualified judges. But Carson and Ciaffone were elected in spite of the process, not because of it. Once it has the Supreme Court’s caseload study in hand, the General Assembly should create an independent commission to oversee a merit-based judicial selection process that is protected from political tampering.
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