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Church, et al: Edwards should honor pledge to back Ciaffone for judgeship

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By Christen C. Church and 21 others.

The full list of signatories is at the bottom. All are Roanoke Valley lawyers.

Judges are an important part of our justice system, and Virginia has a proud history of selecting highly qualified judges. The serious job of picking judges falls to the General Assembly, which has traditionally relied on members of the local bar associations to offer advice and guidance on new judges. A decision by a local bar association to support a judicial candidate sends a powerful message to the General Assembly.

When a vacancy recently occurred in Roanoke’s Circuit Court, members of the local bar associations did as they have done for years and met to consider candidates to recommend to the General Assembly for this open judgeship. The Roanoke City and the Salem/Roanoke County bar associations met separately and both voted to endorse the same candidate — Leisa K. Ciaffone – who currently serves as a judge for the Roanoke Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court.

Judge Ciaffone is highly qualified and the citizens of the Roanoke Valley deserve her competence, common sense, and judicial temperament. But they also deserve more — they deserve to have a female judge who has consistently and overwhelmingly earned the respect of her peers and those who appear before her in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court.

Choosing Judge Ciaffone for the Circuit Court should be an easy decision. But the deck may be stacked against her. On Feb. 11, Roanoke’s Sen. John Edwards (D), who is now the Chair of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, issued a press release announcing his support of a different candidate, not Judge Ciaffone. In 2016, however, Sens. Edwards and Suetterlein (R) issued a joint statement that was quoted in this newspaper, declaring: “We believe that Judge Ciaffone will make an excellent Circuit Court Judge in the future and intend to support her candidacy for the next vacancy.” The next vacancy has now arrived.

Sens. Edwards and Suetterlein were right in 2016 when they declared that Judge Ciaffone will make an excellent Circuit Court judge. Judge Ciaffone has the qualifications and characteristics that will make her an exceptional Circuit Court judge. She has served with distinction on the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, which deals with some of our community’s most challenging problems. She is decisive, prepared, and has excellent judgment. Recognizing the court’s central role in administering justice, Judge Ciaffone also tempers her decision-making with understanding and compassion. She is an exceptional role model to all citizens, but her leadership, poise and accomplishments are particularly meaningful and inspirational to the young women attorneys and citizens who appear in her courtroom.

With a vacancy on the five-judge Roanoke Circuit Court, the General Assembly now has an opportunity to elevate a judge for all of us – but one of particular significance for women citizens and lawyers who can’t help but notice the rows of male judicial portraits lining the walls of the local court house. This is not a matter of affirmative action, it is a matter of recognizing merit. And, if a glass ceiling happens to break in the process, so be it.

In the entire history of the Roanoke Valley, there has been only one female Circuit Court judge, and she retired almost two decades ago. Yet, women make up the majority of the Roanoke Valley population and the majority of law school graduates.

We are female attorneys who know Judge Ciaffone. We can attest to her excellent skills, high ethical standards, and character. And we can also attest that it is time for such a highly qualified woman to sit on Roanoke’s Circuit Court. The ultimate responsibility for selecting judges rests with the General Assembly. We therefore urge Senators Edwards and Suetterlein to honor their bipartisan pledge in 2016 to select Judge Ciaffone for the next Circuit Court vacancy. And we urge the other members of the local delegation to support Judge Ciaffone. This is a promise worth keeping.

Signed by: Christen C. Church, Lindsey A. Coley, Caley A. DeGroote, Robyn Smith Ellis, Vicki L. Francois, Linda D. Frith, Alicha M. Grubb, Ruth Ellen Kuhnel, Rhona Levine, Cerid Lugar, C. Kailani Memmer, Monica T. Monday, Mary Beth Nash, Julie F. Perry, Christine Lockhart Poarch, Melissa W. Robinson, Devon Rood Slovensky, L. Leigh R. Strelka, Nancy A. Sullivan, Lori D. Thompson, Johneal M. White and Kathleen L. Wright.


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