YouTube Video Channel

Monday, December 21, 2009

Judicial Interviews: The Highlights

The Pitchfork Rebellion was present at the Judicial Interviews in Richmond before the Courts of Justice Committee on December 17, 2009.  The committee interviewed a slate of incumbent judges whose terms expire in 2010 as well as several Pro Tempore judges.  Here are the highlights (email us at if you have questions about other judges that were interviewed Dec 17 and are not mentioned below):

Judge Michael Moore (29th Judicial Circuit) came before the committee & was endorsed by his law school classmate Del. Kilgore.

Judge Edward Turner (27th Judicial Distict) announced he will retire at the end of his next term, if he is re-appointed.  Judge Turner is currently age 66.  One committee member inquired about Judge Turner's involvement as a board member for a non-profit land conservation organization.  Judge Turner indicated that his name does not appear on fundraising letters.

Senator John Edwards endorsed Judge William Alexander II (22nd Judicial Circuit).
Sen. Edwards is a long-time friend of Judge Alexander, whom he's known since law school.

Judge M. Lee Stilwell, Jr. (22nd Judicial District) appeared before the committee sporting a long, braided ponytail.  He referred to his courtroom as a place where, "everyone is equal."

Judge Elizabeth Kellas (26th Judicial District) was questioned about her name.  Apparently her married name is Elizabeth Burton, but she goes by Elizabeth Kellas professionally & her husband is a stay-at-home dad.

Judge Julia Cannon (20th Judicial District) was evaluated under the now defunct Judicial Performance Evaluation (JPE) program.  Her JPE indicated she needs improvement in her knowledge of the law & faithfulness to the law.  Del. Albo, chairman of the committee, asked Judge Cannon how she intends to address these apparent shortcomings.  Judge Cannon stated she needs to more diligently read the Court of Appeals and VA Supreme Court case law.  We wonder how a judge who has been sitting on the bench for years would not know the law and worse, why she would not be faithful to it?  Is this the best candidate for Chief Judge of the Loudoun General District Court?  We think not.

Judge Steven Smith (Judge Pro Tempore, 31st Judicial District) was endorsed by Del. Jackson Miller.  Jackson Miller and Judge Smith are friends; they served together on the Manassas City Council.  Part of his qualifications included the following: Judge Smith's father was a circuit court judge - ergo, he must have inherited a judicial gene from his father.

Judge Thomas Gallahue (19th Judicial District) was evaluated under the JPE program.  The JPE showed concerns about his faithfulness to the law and effective communication of decisions.

Judge Mitchell Mutnick (19th Judicial District) said he surveys people to find out their perceptions of his judicial performance.  Survey says: he didn't feel he got a lot of honest answers.

Judge Teena Grodner's JPE (19th Judicial District) revealed concerns about whether she gives consistent treatment to all parties.  

Judge Becky Moore's JPE (18th Judicial District) revealed concerns about fairness & consistency towards all parties.

Two citizens testified against Judge George Varoutsos (17th Judicial District).  Louis John Swallow, Jr. gave a rambling presentation without providing any substantial or credible concerns about the judge. Judge Varoutsos' response - he terminated Mr. Swallow's visitation rights after Mr. Swallow set himself on fire outside the Phillipine Embassy.

Attorney Roy Morris testified about the many problems in Arlington J&DR Court, whose chief Judge Esther Wiggins Lyles is Judge Varoutsos' boss.  Click here to listen to  Roy Morris' compelling testimony:

Judge Varoutsos' JPE revealed concerns about fairness to all parties, consistency & treatment of all parties, and effectiveness of communications.  Our take: time to clean house in Arlington J&DR!

Judge Alfreda Talton-Harris (5th Judicial District) came highly recommended by Senator Lucas, her former sorority sister, long-time friend and former colleague.  Judge Talton-Harris' evaluation was worse than other judges... there were many concerns about her demeanor; folks were primarily concerned she lacked dignity, respect and courtesy towards litigants and was not diligent in her judicial duties (translation: lazy, rude judge).  If she did not have a close relationship to Senator Lucas (which landed her the judgeship in the first place) we doubt she would be on the bench, much less be seeking re-appointment.  Perhaps she ought to update her resume.

Judge Pro Tempore Kenneth Melvin (3rd Judicial Circuit) was an interim appointment by Governor Kaine.  Melvin retired this year from the General Assembly, where he (like other judges in the Commonwealth) served on the Courts of Justice Committee.  Sen. Lucas endorsed Judge Melvin as his neighbor and friend of 25 years.

Judge William Moore, Jr. (3rd Judicial District) was evaluated under the JPE program.  His JPE raised the following issues: patience & treating litigants with dignity, respect & courtesy.

Judge James Matthews (4th Judicial District) just completed his first term.  He was endorsed by Sen. Stolle and Del Barlow, his law school classmate.

Judge Joseph Massey (4th Judicial District) received two JPE evaluations.  The more recent JPE showed 30% of respondents felt he had improved.  To his credit, Judge Massey volunteered that there were 2 complaints against him recently & that he had recused himself from one of the cases.  With a powerful family name like Massey, we anticipate Judge Massey will sail through.

Judge Pro Tempore Jeffrey Shaw (9th Judicial District) has been on the bench since June 1, 2009 as a sub judge.  He came before the committee seeking a full term appointment.  Sen. Tommy Norment endorsed Judge Shaw's candidacy.  His qualifications?  Judge Shaw's father was a judge in the same circuit!  He must have inherited a judicial gene too.

Judge George C. Fairbanks, IV (9th Judicial District) was endorsed by Sen. Tommy Norment.  Sen. Norment and Judge Fairbanks go way back... they've been friends since their days in law school together, when they worked together at the Kings Arms Tavern.  They've also served together in the Army Reserves.  Sen. Norment volunteered that he's appeared before Judge Fairbanks about 200 times.  We're guessing the outcome for Senator Norment's clients was pretty favorable, but that's just a hunch. 

Judge Fairbank's JPE revealed concerns about his respect for litigants and two other issues.

Citizen Gail Lakritz testified against Judge Fairbanks and talked about the problem of domestic violence.  However, Judge Fairbanks did not respond to her testimony.

Judge Ronald Bentsen (7th Judicial District) announced he will not seek another term if re-appointed.
Sen. Tommy Norment endorsed Judge Bentsen, whom he's known since beginning to practice.  Judge Bentsen received an excellent JPE.

Judge Lucretia Carrico (11th Judicial District) serves as chief judge of the Amelia County General District Court, hearing mostly traffic and criminal matters.  Unfortunately, her JPE reveals she falls short in her knowledge of the law, faithfulness to the law.  She admitted her weakness when it comes to knowledge of the law.  With a family name like Carrico and given their history in Virginia's legal community & politics, we suspect she will be re-appointed.  To her credit, she is quite genteel.

Judge Pro Tempore Gregory Carr (12th Judicial District) came seeking an appointment for a full term. Del. Loupassi endorsed Greg, who he's known since he was a clerk.  Del. Albo had coached Judge Carr in the past as well.
The verdict: Virginia's system for selecting judges is deeply flawed.  Its an outdated system where political largesse runs rampant; our elected officials put their friends and cronies on the bench, some judges practically inherit their seats and our judiciary is consequently becoming in-bred. The Roanoke Times summed it up best by saying, "Virginia's judiciary isn't independent.  Judges are beholden to lawmakers for getting and keeping their jobs. That system is broken and should be fixed." 
Its time for merit-based selection of judges.  The future of Virginia's judiciary depends upon it.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Attorney Roy Morris Testimony against Arlington J&DR Judge

DC Attorney Roy Morris testified Dec. 17 before the Courts of Justice Committee in Richmond about the problems in Arlington J&DR Court.  Morris did not mince words about Judge Esther Wiggins-Lyles of Arlington J&DR Court.  Listen to his testimony here:

Read the US Supreme Court brief Roy Morris wrote re: the Dr. Ariel King case by clicking here:

Roanoke Times: Virginia's Judiciary isn't Independent

The Roanoke Times issued an editorial today about the state of Virginia's judiciary and the systemic problems inherent in Virginia's selection process. The Roanoke Times' take on the problem is this -

"Judges are beholden to lawmakers for getting and keeping their jobs. That system is broken and should be fixed"

See the editorial at

Lawyer Blasts Arlington, VA J&DR Court

DC lawyer Roy Morris testified December 17, 2009 before the joint Courts of Justice Committee in Richmond. Morris told the committee that something is rotten in Arlington J&DR -- he insinuated that money is changing hands in Arlington. Morris is a DC attorney who represented Dr. Ariel King, a well-educated African American Jewish woman who lost custody of her little girl.

Morris testified that Arlington J&DR Chief Judge Esther Wiggins-Lyles unlawfully assumed jurisdiction when neither party had resided in VA for 6 months preceding the hearing, then stripped custody from Dr. King. Morris told the committee how his client was told she needed to pay $20,000 to get her child back. Morris further testified about how Dr. King was unable to exercise her Due Process right to appeal & unable to have a trial de novo because the good ol' boy attorney representing the father had a final order entered without her knowledge in an ex-parte hearing.

Dr. King appealed to the Court of Appeals of VA, but was turned down, ostensibly because she mailed a pleading by Priority Mail rather than Registered Mail. The VA Court of Appeals summarily affirmed Judge Wiggins-Lyles ruling. She appealed to the VA Supreme Court, which declined to hear her case. Dr. King has petitioned the US Supreme Court to hear her case (Morris is representing her Pro Bono) -- click on the link to read her US Supreme Court petition:

Judge Esther Wiggins-Lyles will be coming before the Courts of Justice Committee for an interview in December 2010, stay tuned!

Roy Morris' testimony will be available on our blog soon. Click here to read the handout he gave to the Courts of Justice Committee on Dec 17, 2009:

Fairfax Delegation Picks Kassabian, Devine and Nordlund

On December 14, 2009, the Northern VA local delegation interviewed 13 candidates vying to fill three Fairfax County Circuit Court vacancies. The delegation selected Brett Kassabian, Hon. Lorraine Nordlund and Michael Devine after closing the meeting to the public & casting secret ballots.

We'd like to provide you with the highlights of the judicial interviews:

Kassabian, of Oakton, made a point to mention that his uncle was a J&DR judge in Fairfax County. Kassabian's father and brother are also attorneys. Kassabian spent 8.5 years in
the Commonwealth Attorney's office under Horan. Kassabian is in private practice in Annandale, VA. He reported to have been on the bench 300-500 days as a substitute judge. Del. Chap Petersen told the delegation his courthouse mole reported that, "Kassabian is as respectful to a hysterical Pro Se litigant as he is to a partner in a prestigious law firm."

Devine was very articulate. He's practiced primarily in the area of criminal law for over 18 years, during which time he's tried over 100 jury trials. He's served as a substitute judge since 2006 (reporting to have served in that capacity approx. 3X/month). This was Devine's second appearance before the local delegation (he had put his name under consideration in a previous year). Devine mentioned he has taken CLE in Domestic Relations and stressed that his criminal law experience is an asset since litigants can't "snow him."

Judge Lorraine Nordlund has been on the Fairfax bench since 1996 and made the case that she was the most qualified candidate to fill one of the vacancies on the circuit court bench in virtue of her strong judicial experience and domestic relations background. The Fairfax Bar Association (FBA) screening committee did not recommend Nordlund, however. Nordlund's FBA rating was "qualified." A local lawyer who was on the FBA screening committee used his position on the screening committee to play hardball with Judge Nordlund -- he asked Nordlund to reverse a decision she had made in a case he had tried. When Nordlund refused to engage in any quid quo pro, the FBA committee refused to recommend her and only gave her a lame "qualified" rating. Unfortunately there are not any rules to redress problems like this at the local level. The FBA told Nordlund she could either accept the "qualified" ranking or withdraw her name as a candidate. Nordlund took her chances, gave a great presentation to the local delegation and was selected after highlighting her experience teaching other judges, her initiatives to make changes to improve the ASAP program for Hispanics and her work to implement uniform standards when it comes to creditor cases, work for which she has been nationally recognized. Nordlund's experience with the Fairfax Bar Screening Committee highlights how flawed our process for selecting judges is. Nordlund's candidacy could have easily been torpedoed by a self-interested, unethical lawyer from the FBA.

We're glad Brian Hirsch did not make the cut -- his nasal 10 minute presentation to the delegation was, quite frankly, obnoxious and arrogant. Even though Hirsch has extensive domestic relations experience and his friends wrote letters on his behalf supporting his candidacy, one delegation member remarked that there were concerns about his "temperment" and wondered why. Hirsch's response did more to hurt him than help. Mr. Hirsch continues to serve as a substitute judge.

John Tran gave a thoughtful presentation to the delegation - he spoke of his insight & ability to see three sides of every coin. Tran practices mainly in the Federal Court system. He's admitted to practice in both VA and MD and travels extensively to represent clients. Tran's goals, if he were selected, would have been to sustain and improve the Court's reputation, ensure there is a recording of all cases & availability of electronic filing. Tran, who turns 50 years old soon, spoke of the three phases of life: learning, earning and returning to the community. His interest in the judiciary stemmed from his desire to give back to the community. Tran acknowledged the FBA and other local bars were not enamored with him because he's not primarily practicing in Fairfax County. Tran came close to making the cut this year & we hope he will interview again. His breadth of experience and thoughtfulness make him a great candidate.

We also found Alicia Summers' interview interesting. Summers, who is defense counsel for State Farm, was not recommended by the local bar associations because she was "not compassionate."
Summers spoke candidly to the delegation about how the local screening committee grilled her about a case in which her settlement offer was apparently $5,000 less than the settlement value of the injury. Opposing counsel in that case tried to torpedo her candidacy on the basis of that case, which in his mind called into question her "compassion". A member of the local delegation remarked that if that is the standard, all of the candidates would not be "compassionate." Let's face it, Summers' experience in the insurance defense industry gives her a really good grasp of what an injury is really worth -- she would be every ambulance chaser's worst nightware if she were on the bench. Summers aptly stated there are "defects in the process" of selecting judges in VA. We concur.

David Bernhard's candidacy was sunk when it came to light that he forgot to show up for a jury trial and Judge Kendricks detained him for five hours. Even though there was not an order entered, Bernhard, to his credit, disclosed this incident on his application.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Local Delegation to interview Fairfax County judges Dec 14 in Fairfax

The Northern Virginia delegation will interview Fairfax County judges who are up for re-appointment on Monday, December 14. The interviews will take place at:

5 - 9 pm, December 14, 2009
at the NVRC (Northern VA Regional Commission)
3060 Williams Drive (5th floor conference room)
Fairfax, VA

Plan to be there early. Rumor has it litigants unhappy with Judge Grodner and Judge White will
show up to testify...

Fairfax Bar Association Lowers the Bar for Judicial Candidates

This just in... The Fairfax Bar Association has lowered the bar for aspiring Fairfax County judges.
For those of you out there interested in becoming a judge, all you need to do for your screening interview is complete an application and submit a resume of no more than 100 words (yes, that's right, the most they want to know about your career is 100 words, so you don't need much in terms of qualifications to be considered). You might even consider Tweeting your bio if you can get it under 100 words. Keep it short and Tweet.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Open Government Conference: October 15-16, 2009

The VA Coalition for Open Government is hosting "Access 2009" its 10th annual conference
October 15-16,2009 in Staunton, VA this year. For details or to register, visit VACOG's website:

VA Coalition for Open Government Focuses on Transparency & Judicial Reform

The Pitchfork Rebellion weighs in on the need for transparency in judicial selection.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Separation of Powers and the Rise of the Judiciary

Elizabeth Haring contributed an interesting piece on the rise of the judiciary in this week's Bacon's Rebellion published by the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy.

Bacon's Rebellion
July 28, 2009

The first hundred years of colonial American government gave rise to a dominant legislative branch. Legislatures evolved to the point where they routinely interfered in judicial matters. For example, colonial legislatures would issue edicts requiring the courts to re-hear cases that had been adjudicated, overturn creditor’s judgments, stay executions and reverse settled decisions. Historian Gordon Wood described the assemblies of the 18th century as, “a kind of medieval court making private judgments as well as public law.”

Legislative dominance troubled the founding fathers, particularly James Madison who described the legislature in The Federalist 48 as a department which is, “everywhere extending the sphere of its activity and drawing all power into its impetuous vortex.” Virginia’s Constitution demarcated the separation of powers, but in reality the legislature often usurped judicial power. Thomas Jefferson complained that the Virginia legislature had, “in many instances, decided rights which should have been left to judiciary controversy…”

The founding fathers’ concerns translated into many of the Constitution’s enumerations and limitations on power. The doctrine of separation of powers is summed up in the Federalist 47, “the preservation of liberty requires that the three great departments of power should be separate and distinct.”

Not long after the Constitution was ratified, Congress encroached on the judiciary’s power. In 1791, Congress passed a law providing that disabled Revolutionary War veterans apply to Federal Circuit Courts for pension determinations. However, this law granted the Secretary of War the power to deny pensions that had been approved by the courts. The US Supreme Court unanimously declined to review the pension applications, reasoning that for the courts to render judgments subject to review by Congress violated the separation of powers. This marked the first time the high court struck down an act of Congress. The Hayburn decision, the underlying case, is considered by the modern Supreme Court to reflect a proper understanding of the role of the Judiciary under the Constitution.

Over time, the judiciary has evolved to become very powerful. One indication of the immense power of the modern judiciary is the tenure of judges. Only one Federal judge has been impeached in the last twenty years.

Although Virginia’s Judicial Inquiry and Review Commission receives over 1,400 complaints about judges annually, The Virginia Supreme Court has only removed two judges since 1971. While the Virginia Constitution grants the legislature the power to impeach a judge, it has never been done. During the 2009 legislative session, Del. Carrico introduced a bill providing that if a sitting district court judge is convicted of a felony or class 1 misdemeanor during his term of office and all rights of appeal have been exhausted, his term will expire 30 days after the commencement of the next General Assembly regular session. Del. Carrico’s bill was defeated.
Last year, Virginia Supreme Court chief justice Leroy Hassell, Sr. issued two court orders to the Chairman of the Courts of Justice Committees commanding them to restrict access to the Judicial Performance Evaluations. Members of the legislature questioned whether the chief justice had any authority over them. A power struggle ensued between the two branches of government, causing some judicial candidacies to remain in abeyance for weeks. Representatives of the Virginia Supreme Court and the General Assembly got together and ultimately agreed to the chief justice’ demand to keep judicial performance evaluations confidential.

Del. Janis and Sen. Cuccinelli introduced companion bills limiting the Chief Justice of the Virginia Supreme Court to two consecutive terms. Their attempt to check the power of Virginia’s chief jurist also failed. Another noteworthy piece of legislation this session was Del. Loupassi’s bill HB1804 requiring the General Assembly to approve retired judges for temporary recall by the Chief Justice of the Virginia Supreme Court. HB1804 was also defeated.

Two bills were introduced that would transfer authority over the judicial performance evaluation program to the legislature and require the Survey, Evaluation and Research Lab to provide the evaluations directly to the legislature. Both failed. Unable to gain control over the Judicial Performance Evaluation program through legislative means, the Virginia General Assembly essentially killed the program by cutting its funding. Resolution of the dispute between the judicial and legislative branches over authority of the Judicial Performance Evaluation program has important public policy considerations and the conflict surrounding it underscores the need for separation of powers. Not only is involving two branches of government in the Judicial Performance Evaluation program impractical, the great political philosopher Montesquieu warned that when the judicial and legislative powers are joined, the life and liberty of citizens is exposed to arbitrary control because judges become the legislators.

The recent struggles between Virginia’s judicial and legislative branches, the many failed legislative attempts to check the judiciary’s power, and the seeming impossibility of removing judges is indicative of how powerful Virginia’s judiciary has become over the past two hundred years. It’s a far cry from the days of old when Virginia’s legislature interfered in judicial matters and was the dominant branch of government. The Virginia General Assembly’s recent moves indicate the legislature now recognizes how power has shifted toward the judicial branch and how critical it is to the proper functioning of government to have a balance of powers not only in theory but in practice.

Gordon S. Wood, Creaton of the American Republic 154-55 (1969)
Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia (1784)

VA Gubenatorial Candidates Agree: Judicial Evaluations and Reform Needed

Virginia Lawyers Weekly

Gov. candidates would reinstate judicial evaluations
July 25th, 2009 ·
Both Republican Bob McDonnell and Democrat Creigh Deeds apparently would restore the moribund program that gave lawyers, jurors, and citizens a voice in Virginia’s judicial selection process.
At the initial debate between the two candidates for governor, both endorsed a merit-based system of judge selection.
“We should reform the whole process,” Deeds told the audience at the Virginia Bar Association in Hot Springs. “We’ve got good judges. We lucked out, but we need reform.”
McDonnell boasted of his role in launching the judicial performance evaluation program that ground to a halt this year. “I’ll make sure we get that back on track,” he said.
By Peter Vieth

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Pitchfork Rebellion on the John Batchelor Show

Tune in tonight to hear John Batchelor's interview with two members of the Pitchfork Rebellion
discuss Virginia's flawed judicial election process. Sunday, June 20 at 7:15 pm EST on AM630 WMAL.

Richmond Times: Who's Judging Our Judges

The Pitchfork Rebellion's Bruce Bennett was featured in a front page article by the Richmond Times Dispatch: Who's Judging our Judges?

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

AP Story on Pitchfork Rebellion and Judicial Selection Debate in Virginia

The Associated Press ran a piece recently about judicial selection in Virginia. House Courts of Justice Committee chairman David Albo (R) admits there are some flaws in the process of judicial selection but defends the state's selection method by and large. A University of Virginia law professor says the way we select judges in Virginia is ripe for reconsideration/discussion:,0,5950262.story

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Pitchfork Rebellion contributes Public Policy Op-Ed piece to Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy

The Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy featured an article by one of our founders
in their Op-Ed section this week - the topic: Virginia's inherently flawed judicial selection process. This piece touches on many of the flaws in our current process and offers some practical solutions. We'd like to know: how much is the state of VA spending on rehab for judges, also known as the "Judges Helping Judges" program? If Chief Justice Hassell cannot find money in the budget for the Judicial Performance Evaluation program, why is he spending money hand over fist to rehabilitate troubled judges and calling for pay raises for VA judges?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Richmond Times Lead Editorial: Pitchfork Rebellion and Sunshine

Today's Richmond Times lead editorial is on the topic of judicial selection in VA and features The Pitchfork Rebellion.

The Richmond Times gets it. They liken Virginia's closed door selection of judges to "proceedings the Ottoman Empire would have considered baffling, if not inscrutable." We could not agree more. The way Virginia selects its judges is a regression of hundreds of years to the days of the British star chambers, meetings of secret administrative bodies that met between 1398-1641. The British did away with star chamber proceedings because their secrecy cast doubt upon the legitimacy of the proceedings. Yet, here we are in the 21st century with our state legislators meeting in secret to debate the merits of particular judicial candidates.

We need to reform judicial selection in VA to allow for complete transparency in the process and merit based selection of judges.

Richmond Times: Judging Chief Justice Hassell

We thought our readers might be interested in this piece by the Richmond Times about VA Supreme Court chief justice Leroy Rountree Hassell:

The million dollar questiion is this: will chief justice Hassell and the VA Supreme Court dip into their budget to fund the Judicial Performance Evaluations now that the VA General Assembly has just cut $600,000 from this budget?

Or will there not be any evaluations in the future despite the fact that our law requires each judge to be evaluated under the JPE program?

VA Pilot Editorial: Misguided and Judgmental

This week the VA Pilot wrote an editorial on judicial selection in VA.
Their take on The Pitchfork Rebellion? They think, "pitchforks imply a level of haste and emotionalism that should be replaced with caution and sound reason."

Their editorial writer, just a few hundred words later, goes on to contradict the above warning of avoiding haste in judicial reforms by calling on State leaders to, "embrace more immediate opportunities for reform." The operative, contradictory word being "immediate."

The Pitchfork Rebellion has called for transparency in the VA judicial selection process as well as merit based selection of judges. We recognize these reforms will take time. We've started an important public dialogue about judicial selection in our state and are working to be a catalyst for meaningful change in this regard. Our positions are reasoned, thoughtful and legally sound. With all due respect to the VA Pilot editorial writer, how does she propose implementing "immediate" reforms when the General Assembly is out of session? Perhaps the VA Pilot's ideas for reform were hasty and not well thought out.

The VA Pilot editorial writer concludes with, "Pitchforks rarely result in long-standing improvements." We beg to differ. Most human progress has stemmed from citizen rebellions. Our country was founded by men and women who broke away from Great Britain. More recently, Communism fell because of peaceful, populist movements such as Solidarity.
Our judiciary is at stake - we either accept the status quo (a system that everyone acknowledges is broken) or we work tirelessly to change and improve it.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Ruth Bader Ginsburg hints at upcoming US Supreme Court opening

US Supreme Court justice Rith Bader Ginsburg told law students today the US Supreme Court will surely have a new justice on the high court soon.

The ailing 75 year old Ginsburg will perhaps retire. But since the US Constitution does not impose term limits on US Supreme Court justices or a mandatory retirement age, US Supreme Court justices typically serve until nearly the end of their lives, notwithstanding serious health problems.

Virginia has a mandatory retirement age of 70 for judges. The problem is that VA judges can retire and then go back to work! Yes, that's right, they "retire" then serve as substitute judges in their twilight years. Case in point, Jean Harrison Clements recently retired from the Court of Appeals of VA, yet she intends to continue serving as a judge pro tempore.

First, from an economic standpoint alone, this hurts the taxpayers of the Commonwealth of Virginia since these "retired" judges work in retirement adds pensionable earnings to their retirement pensions. In other words, since a pension is based principally upon the annuitant's age and years of service, adding more service at an old age can be quite lucrative for older judges. And the corollary is, the additional pension benefits these old judges accrue are quite costly to Virginia taxpayers, who ultimately fund the state's pension system for employees.

Second, statistics show that nearly half of all people age 80 (and many in their 70's for that matter) have dementia. Do we really want folks who may be losing (or who have already lost) their mental faculties hearing important cases? If your judge could not remember what he ate for breakfast, do you think he could recall detailed legal arguments and facts of cases?

News flash: Virginia has a massive budget deficit. And the US economy is in a deep recession.
Why are we making poor financial decisions that only benefit old judges?

Virginia should make age 70 a truly mandatory retirement age and not allow judges to serve in any capacity beyond age 70.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Can Judges Be Bought?

Good question. Parade Magazine wrote an article on this topic today.

Take the famous WV case before the US Supreme Court now, how could the judge who received over $3,000,000 in campaign contributions possibly be impartial when hearing this case involving his major campaign contributor?

Money talks. It defies common sense to think that this judge would not have been influenced in his decision making by $3,000,000.

Even if there is not actual bias, there is the appearance of a conflict of interests. That should be enough for a judge to recuse himself.

Dave Albo "digs out" and finds Judge Finch's "Performance Evaluation"

This just in... The Pitchfork Rebellion has obtained a copy of a letter dated March 5, 2009 from Delegate David Albo (Chairman of the House Courts of Justice Committee in VA) to Elizabeth Haring. Dave Albo says he cleaned up his desk this week and found Judge Finch's performance evaluation after telling her a month ago he threw it away.

A little background first... on January 15, 2009, Ms. Haring sent Dave Albo a FOIA request for Judge Finch's unofficial "performance" evaluation prepared by the Fairfax Bar Association. After himming and hawwing, Dave Albo told Ms. Haring he threw it away.

Ms. Haring, not to be deterred, sued Dave Albo on February 18, 2009, in a landmark VA Supreme Court case that is ongoing. Ms. Haring complained that Dave Albo destroyed a public document that she is entitled to under FOIA and asked for various forms of relief. The case challenges Judge Finch's re-appointment on the grounds it was procedurally defective, unlawful and illicit. The thrust of her case is that the state did not do an official Judicial Performance Evaluation for Judge Finch, even though it is mandated by law (VA Code 17.1-100). Instead, the Fairfax Bar Association, a private member organization which Judge Finch belongs to, sent an "evaluation" to the local delegation. This evaluation was the source upon which the local delegation relied in their decision to re-appoint Judge Finch.

Now, back to Dave Albo's March 5 letter to Ms. Haring. It states, in part, "Today, March 5, while "digging out" stacks of mail and information on my desk in the General Assembly building, I found one copy. Thus, I must amend my FOIA response."

Dave Albo goes on to say that the Fairfax Bar Association "evaluation" of Judge Finch was given to him on the assumption it would not be made available to the public. He then goes on to say that, although his position is that the evaluations "should be available to the public,"
he gave it to his attorney and will not give it to Ms. Haring.

To add insult to injury, Dave Albo copies the Fairfax Bar Association on the letter, advising them that future judicial evaluations he receives ,"will be made available to the public, if requested."

So, let's get this straight, Dave Albo will give other people judicial evaluations by the Fairfax Bar Association, but not give it to Ms. Haring? That's right, Dave Albo wants to force the issue and make Ms. Haring subpoena the evaluation in order to get it.

Dave Albo's position, which is not well taken or legally correct, is that the Fairfax Bar Association evaluation is his "working document" and therefore exempt from FOIA.

Sounds like Dave Albo is grasping at straws and trying to find some weak legal argument to keep Ms. Haring from getting Judge Finch's performance evaluation.

We'd like to know: does Dave Albo really think he can violate FOIA? The VA Supreme Court rescinded its order requiring the official Judicial Performance Evaluations to be secret. There is no statute or Rule of the VA Supreme Court which requires judicial evaluations to be secret.
So on what legal basis does Dave Albo think he can withhold a public document that is subject to FOIA? Yep, you guessed it, on the assumption that the document would not be made public. On a gentleman's ageeement.

Sorry Dave, but that does not cut it.

Friday, March 6, 2009

DC Examiner: Where are the judge complaints?

The below piece appeared in the DC Examiner yesterday:

UPDATE: Pitchfork Rebellion: Where are the judge complaints?
POSTED March 5, 2009 4:29 PM
A member of the Pitchfork Rebellion found this little tidbit in the Virginia Code, which states that the Judicial Inquiry and Review Commission (JIRC) has to keep track of all complaints filed against members of the judiciary and publish them every year:§ 17.1-905. Annual report.On or before December 1 of each year, the Commission shall publish a report detailing the activities of the Commission for the prior year. The report shall include the number of complaints filed with the Commission; the number of complaints originating from attorneys, judges, court employees, or the general public; the number of complaints dismissed based on (i) failure to fall within the jurisdiction of the Commission, (ii) failure to state a violation of the Canons of Judicial Conduct, or (iii) failure of the Commission to reach a conclusion that the Canons were breached; the number of complaints for which the Commission concluded that the Canons of Judicial Conduct were breached; and the number of cases from which the staff or any member of the Commission recused himself due to an actual or possible conflict. (1997, cc. 914, 921, § 2.1-37.8:1; 2001, c. 844.)

EDITOR'S COMMENTS: This is a good question. Where are the judge complaints?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Virginia FOIA Expert Weighs in on VA Judicial Selection Process

The Pitchfork Rebellion spoke to Meaghan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government ( about the lack of transparency in Virginia's judicial selection process.

Ms. Rhyne, who is an attorney by profession, weighed in on the secretive situation in Virginia when it comes to our judicial selection process,

"whether the judiciary or the legislature handles the performance evaluations, the judicial selection and retention process should be as transparent as possible, when possible, since it is the citizens of the Commonwealth appearing before these judges who will be the most directly impacted by the decision."

We could not agree more. Secretive closed door meetings cast doubt upon the legitimacy of the proceedings.

Stay tuned... we will be breaking some headline news soon.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Pitchfork Rebellion: Washington Post Article on Flawed Judicial Selection Process in VA features The Pitchfork Rebellion

The Pitchfork Rebellion: Washington Post Article "Va. Judge Selection Process Criticized: Group Challenges Lack of Public Input" on Flawed Judicial Selection Process in VA features The Pitchfork Rebellion

Dave Albo Opposes Term Limits for All VA Judges?

This just in... a citizen wrote to Dave Albo, Chairman of the House Courts of Justice Committee last week asking him to support term limits for all VA judges. This is the verbatim correspondence dated February 26, 2009:

Citizen: "This is to encourage you to Institute Term Limits for ALL State Judges."

Dave Albo's Response: "The filing deadline has long passed for this year. You would need to get your Delegate or Senator to submit it for next year. The problem with this idea, and I think it sounds good, is that when a lawyer gives up his law practice to become a Judge, he has to disolve the entire practice. So if there are term limits, Judges would be totally out of work and unable to pay their bills after the expiration of their term. Dave"

Wait a second! We disagee with Dave Albo on this. If a circuit court judge had term limits (let's say 2 terms), he/she would know that they had a maximum term of 16 years on the bench. We think the judge would have plenty of time during those 16 years to find a new job before the end of his/her term. The McCammon Group hires plenty of retired judges. If the judge has a good reputation, he/she would have no trouble starting their own practice or joining another practice.
Only the bad judges would be "totally out of work and unable to pay their bills after the expiration of their term."

Ironically, many of the Courts of Justice Committee members supported Del. Bill Janis' bill to institute term limits for the VA Supreme Court Chief Justice. (Presumbaly because they do not like Chief Justice Hassell and he is in the midst of his 2nd term). But they will not support term limits for all judges in Virginia. We intend to lobby for new legislation next year that will impose term limits for all judges in Virginia.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Dirty Political Tricks

The Senate Courts of Justice Committee met at 9 am this morning, after Senator Marsh, Chairman of the Senate Courts of Justice Committtee and the House Clerk Bruce Jamerson told a citizen in writing yesterday that the committee would not be meeting.

Immediately after the meeting started, Senator Stolle made a motion to hold a closed meeting to discuss "personnel matters" and the public was forced to leave the room. Minutes later, the public was allowed back in the room. Senator Deeds made a motion to not certify the judges that had issues and read from the list of judges (page 2, judge number 1,2,7,10&12) and one judge from page 1 of the list. We've identified five of the six judges who did not make the cut: Hon. David Williams (1st District), Hon. Timothy Wright (1st District), Hon. Bryant Sugg (7th District), Hon. Colleen Killilea (9th District) and Hon. Birdie Jamison (13th District). Delegate Melvin (in a joint committee meeting on 2/20/09) indicated that at least three of the five judges above allegedly had "temperment" issues.

There were a total of 7 JPE's done this year at a cost to the taxpayers of $770,000 ($110,000 each). Five of the six judges who were not certified today had Judicial Performance Evaluations (JPEs) done. This is a high failure rate. It causes us to wonder if Judge Finch had a JPE done, would the committee also have withheld his certification after reviewing it? Aren't violations of folks' rights, ignorance of the law and laziness, all alleged to be problems with Judge Finch, more serious problems than temperment problems? We think so.

One of the Senators inquired if Judge Gaylord Finch was to be excluded from certification too. However, Dave Albo's gentlemens' agreement came to fruition -- the Committee unanimously certified Judge Finch.

Senator Cuccinelli, to his credit, asked the committee to hear from two citizens who got wind of the meeting last night, got up at 5 am and drove almost three hours this morning to be there. Senator Marsh, without knowing what the citizens' testimony would entail, concluded that they had nothing new to say and denied them the opportunity to testify against Judge Finch because they had testified before. Senator Howell, who looked washed out, chimed in that the citizens should not be able to speak because they had nothing new to offer. One citizen, Bruce Bennett, asked to be heard -- he had never testified before about Judge Finch. Senator Marsh denied Mr. Bennett the ability to testify in this important public meeting. The other citizen had new information to share, but likewise could not testify.

We've concluded the committee has this "see no evil, hear no evil" attitude about appointing judges. They do not want the public to come and testify about questionable judges. They'd rather vote blindly after holding secret meetings and cutting deals.

Next up... we've learned Dave Albo cut another deal... stay tuned for more.

Friday, February 27, 2009

11th Hour Dirty Political Tricks?

The Pitchfork Rebellion has learned that the Senate Courts of Justice Committee intends to meet at 9 am tomorrow to vote on Judge Finch's certification. We're not surprised Judge Finch's friends want to try to get him through the committee on the last day of the General Assembly session. This looks like a desperate dirty political trick to sneak Judge Finch back on the bench at the 11th hour of the session.

We're also not surprised to learn that Senate Courts of Justice Committee Chairman Henry Marsh III told a citizen at 12:49 pm today, "Senate Courts of Justice is not meeting regarding Judge Finch."

The General Assembly clerk also told a citizen today via email that there was no Senate Courts of Justice Committee meeting scheduled for Judge Finch.

We only learned tonight that the Senate Courts of Justice Committee is in fact planning to meet at 9 am tomorrow morning.

Its pretty obvious our elected officials do not want the public to attend these meetings, even though the judicial re-appointment process is supposed to be open to the public. We would just appreciate it if they would stop playing games and start being honest with us.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Separation of Powers Deuce

This just in... we've confirmed that yesterday the VA Supreme Court Chief Justice Hassell rescinded his November 10, 2009 order requiring the Judicial Performance Evaluations to be confidential.

Now, the million dollar question is whether or not our elected officials down in Richmond will give them to the public. We intend to find out by sending a FOIA request for them.

We're glad that finally the legislators (and hopefully the general public) will see the $770,000 handiwork of the super secret Survey, Evaluation and Research lab at VCU.

Cost of a JPE: $110,000 each
Value of a JPE: worthless
For everything else, there is Visa and Mastercard.

Is Judge Finch Dying on the Legislative Vine?

The infamous Judge Gaylord Finch of Fairfax County Circuit Court (19th judicial circuit in Virginia) is still in limbo. The House Courts of Justice Committee unanimously certified him on 2/24/09 in the absence of having a Judicial Performance Evaluation, which is mandated by law (17.1-100). The local delegation went on Judge Finch's "evaluation" from the local bar association, which is a cheap substitute for the real thing mandated by law.

Despite multiple credible reports of judicial misconduct and an outcry against him because he lied in his second judicial interview before the Courts of Justice Committee members/local delegation on January 10, 2009, our elected representatives want to put Judge Finch back on the bench.

The Senate Courts of Justice Committee has not certified Judge Finch. The lawmakers extended the deadline to Saturday for judicial appointments. They may work overtime over the weekend to get their buddy Judge Finch back on the bench or they will wake up and smell the coffee and let him die on the legislative vine. We suggest they do the latter. We're trying to run down the legislative shot clock.

Turf Warfare in Richmond

The Supreme Court of Virginia has not ruled yet on Elizabeth Haring's Petition for a Writ of Mandamus and Writ of Prohibition directed to Del. Dave Albo, Sen. Henry Marsh, and Linda Birtley... Nor has the high court ruled yet on the petition for an emergency injunction filed by Haring... we will keep you posted.

In other news, the turf warfare between the General Assembly in Richmond and the VA Supreme Court just gets more and more interesting. Del. Dave Albo invited the Chief Justice Leroy Roundtree Hassell to attend the House Courts of Justice Committee meeting on February 24 to explain his legal reasoning for forbidding the public to see the judicial performance evaluations (JPE) or to rescind the order. Chief Justice Hassell did not show up yesterday, nor did a rep. from the VA Supreme Court. It looks like the VA Supreme Court dissed Albo or were afraid to try to justify how the JPE can be confidential when there is no statutory authority to justify it and the Supreme Court has no Rule on that point.

After a long song and dance by many members of the House Courts of Justice Committee members about how much they really want to review the Judicial Performance Evaluations on the five judges who had a JPE done before voting on them, the entire committee then voted unanimously to certify all five of those judges without ever seeing their evaluations.

The legislators talk a big game, but that's about it. By certifying these judges without seeing the evaluations, they just conceded a lot of power to the VA Supreme Court yesterday by moving forward on these judges in the absence of the evaluations. Advantage: VA Supreme Court.

We've learned Dave Albo and two members of his committee went to meet with Chief Justice Hassell on Feb. 25 on his turf. A citizen has sent a FOIA request for meeting minutes and details. She also asked for the public to be able to attend these kinds of meetings.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Emergency Injunction Filed at VA Supreme Court to Stop Controversial Judge Finch

The following is a copy of petition for an emergency injunction filed at the Virginia Supreme Court on 2/24/09. The Courts of Justice Committee of the Virginia Legislature voted to certify Judge Finch on 2/24/09. The high court is expected to rule on the injunction request today...


: Record No. ______
IN RE: :



Comes now your petitioner Elizabeth A. Haring,
in proper person, and respectfully requests this
Honorable Court to issue an emergency injunction to
prevent Hon. David Albo, Hon. Henry Marsh, and the
members of the Courts of Justice Committee from
voting regarding the certification of Judge Gaylord
L. Finch, Jr. and enjoining the Virginia General
Assembly from voting on Judge Finch until this
Honorable Court renders a decision on her February
18, 2009 Petition for a Writ of Mandamus and Writ
of Prohibition.

This Honorable Court has authority pursuant to § 8.01-650,

“On petition for a writ of prohibition, the court may, at any time before or after the application for the writ is made, make an order, a copy of which shall be served on the defendant, suspending the proceedings sought to be prohibited until the final decision of the cause.”

Further, pursuant to 8.01-651 this Honorable Court has said authority,

“Whenever a court having jurisdiction refuses to suspend proceedings as provided in § 8.01-650 of this chapter, a copy of the proceedings in court, with any orders entered in the proceedings, may be presented to a judge of the Court of Appeals, if an application for a writ of prohibition is pending in that court, or to a justice of the Supreme Court if the application for a writ is pending there. Such judge or justice may thereupon award a suspension of the proceedings sought to be prohibited until the final decision of the cause.”

On February 18, 2009, your petitioner filed a
petition for a Writ of Mandamus and Writ of
Prohibition directed to Hon. David Albo, Hon. Henry
Marsh III and Linda Birtley. Subsequently, your
petitioner wrote to all members of the Courts of
Justice Committee on February 19, 2009 asking that
they wait to proceed any further regarding Judge
Finch until this Honorable Court has had an
opportunity to review and rule upon her petition.
Moreover, your petitioner wrote to Del. Albo
seeking to schedule the taking of his deposition.

On February 20, 2009, Virginia Lawyers
Weekly conducted an interview with Del. David Albo.
In said interview, Del. Albo admitted that he cut a
deal to re-appointment Judge Finch to another term
premised upon Judge Finch retiring at the end of
2009 (see attached Exhibit 1). The aforementioned
deal is part of the “gentleman’s agreement” alleged
in the petition for a writ of mandamus and writ of

On February 23, 2009, Del. David Albo wrote to
your petitioner. He indicated the Courts of Justice
Committee intends to vote regarding Judge Finch’s
certification today and that there will be a floor
vote on Wednesday of this week. As of this writing,
there is no public posting of the committee meeting
today on the General Assembly website (see Exhibit
2 attached). Your petitioner has written to Del.
Albo three times in the past 24 hours seeking to
find out the committee meeting time and location
today, to no avail. Del. Albo’s refusal to notify
the public is a violation of VA FOIA law.

This Honorable Court has authority to issue an
emergency injunction. Absent this Honorable Court’s
intervention, Judge Finch may get re-appointed even
though his re-appointment process has been
procedurally defective, unlawful and illicit
because a judicial performance evaluation was never
completed re: Judge Finch pursuant to 17.1-100.

The issuance of an injunction will not
prejudice the Respondents. If this Honorable Court
fails to issue an injunction, the Courts of Justice
Committee certifies Judge Finch and the General
Assembly votes in favor of his re-appointment, this
Court will be unable to issue an extraordinary writ
as a remedy, which would prejudice your
petitioner’s case. The issuance of an injunction is
absolutely necessary to prevent a failure or defect
of justice and meet the ends of justice.
Wherefore, your petitioner prays that this
Honorable Court will issue an emergency injunction

Respectfully Submitted,

Elizabeth A. Haring,
Private Citizen
Pro Se

Elizabeth Haring
210 Cornwall Street NW
Leesburg, VA 20176
Tel: 703-967-4047
Fax: 540-242-3441

I hereby certify that a true copy of the foregoing
Petition for Emergency Injunction was served
this 24th day of February, 2009 on the Honorable
David B. Albo, Chairman, Courts of Justice
Committee and the Honorable Henry Marsh III by hand
delivering copies to their legislative offices in
the General Assembly Building, Capitol Square,
Richmond, VA 23218, to Linda Birtley c/o Virginia
Commonwealth University, 910 West Franklin Street,
Richmond, VA 23284 and to the office of Robert
McDonnell, Attorney General of Virginia, Counsel
for Respondents, 900 East Main Street, Richmond, VA

Elizabeth A. Haring
Pro Se

Elizabeth Haring
210 Cornwall Street NW
Leesburg, VA 20176
Tel: 703-967-4047
Fax: 540-242-3441

Citizen files landmark case at VA Supreme Court

The following article appeared in the DC Examiner on 2/19/09:

UPDATE: Finch flap now before VA Supreme Court
POSTED February 19, 2009 11:33 AM
The pitchfork rebellion over the reappointment of Fairfax Circuit Court Judge Gaylord Finch to another eight-year term is not over, despite a thumbs up by the Northern Virginia delegation and an almost certain vote in his favor by the Courts of Justice Committee chaired by Del. Dave Albo, R-Springfield.Liz Haring, a Leesburg mom who is currently appealing Judge Finch’s ruling in her custody case, filed a petition with the Virginia Supreme Court Wednesday, asking the commonwealth’s highest court to stop legislators from proceeding with Finch’s reappointment process. In documents filed with the court, Haring points out that state law requires that “the Supreme Court, or its designee, shall transmit a report of the evaluation in the final year of the term of each justice and judge whose term expires during the next session of the General Assembly to the chairmen of the House and Senate Committees for Courts of Justice.” Haring alleges that Linda Birtley, who heads the Judicial Performance Evaluation office at Virginia Commonwealth University, submitted JPEs for other judges on Aug. 28, 2008 – but curiously not one for Judge Finch. The petition argues that absent Finch’s JPE, which is required by the Virginia Code, Albo and his fellow COJ members have no legal authority to recertify him.Haring also asks that the evaluation done by the Fairfax Bar Association, which is not required by state law, be made a matter of public record since it was discussed during Finch’s Jan. 10 judicial interview – and none of the legislators present made a proper motion to hold a closed meeting as required by Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act.Finally, Haring argues that Albo had no constitutional authority to accept a letter submitted to the Supreme Court by Finch himself – which states that he intends to retire at the end of 2009 – as a condition of the judge’s recertification. There is no provision in the Virginia Constitution to appoint a judge for less than eight years or make his/her reappointment conditional on a promise to retire, Haring claims, so there is no way to enforce Finch’s promised retirement if he gets back on the bench.The petition asks for relief in the form of a complete JPE to be submitted to the members of Courts of Justice and another public interview of Finch - with more public testimony allowed. It’s hard to see how the Virginia Supreme Court can say no to what amounts to a citizen’s insistence that the court follow its own procedures.

Amanda Lewis on Judge Gaylord Finch

The following letter to the editor was printed in the DC Examiner on Feb. 18, 2009.

"Judge Finch doesn’t deserve more time on bench"Re: “Judicial hot potato: Is Judge Finch fried?” Feb. 2Thanks for including my case in your article. Judge Finch placed my 9-year-old daughter in an environment where doing drugs and drinking alcohol are acceptable behaviors. I have been heartbroken over this verdict and worry about my daughter's welfare daily. Gaylord Finch is a horrible judge who frequently closed his eyes and appeared not to pay attention during my appeal. His lazy decision was based solely on the recommendations of another Fairfax County judge and the guardian-at-litem, who is now a Juvenile judge, too. I support my family as a registered pediatric nurse free of government assistance. I also became a foster parent to a teenage boy, now grown. The irony is that I am good enough to be a foster parent and a pediatric nurse, but according to the Fairfax court system, I am incapable of raising my own child!Thank you so much for exposing this corrupt judge. If something does happen to my daughter, I will hold him accountable.

– Amanda Lewis, Locust Grove, VA

The Pitchfork Rebellion Beginnings

The following article appeared in the DC Examiner on January 14, 2009

Pitchfork rebellion against Judge Finch
POSTED January 14, 2009 12:05 AM
A lot of Virginians are coming out of the woodwork and demanding that the General Assembly refuse to reappoint Fairfax Circuit Court Judge Gaylord Finch. The complaints are coming close to critical mass. Virginia and South Carolina are the only two states in which legislators appoint judges. Partisan fighting between the Republican-controlled House and Democratic-controlled state Senate delayed many nominations last session. But Virginia lawmakers also have the power to deny a judge reappointment if he/she fails to live up to expectations. A bill submitted by former delegate and current state attorney general Robert McDonnell created a panel to review judges’ performance of circuit, general district, and juvenile and domestic relations judges. It went into effect for the first time this year. Legislators are supposed to rate judges by their record on the bench instead of just rubber-stamping them for another term.And they’re getting an earful from irate defendants who feel their rights were violated by Judge Finch. One man claims Judge Finch refused to enter a final order in his case – for four years !– leaving him in a legal no-man’s-land. Another reportedly told the FBI that Finch routinely hears criminal cases in which the defense attorney is his golfing buddy and a frequent houseguest.A former Fairfax County resident told members of the Courts of Justice Committee that Finch ridiculed and mocked her when she appeared pro se in his courtroom in an attempt to regain custody of her young daughter. Another man complained that in 2005, Judge Finch systematically denied him his constitutional rights when he was charged with trespassing for attending a school party for his Down’s syndrome son at this ex-wife’s invitation. He claims that Judge Finch refused to rule on his motions to dismiss, wouldn’t let the proceedings be recorded by the court reporter present, or even let the defendant present evidence or rebut witnesses.Finch is also accused of holding ex parte hearings on a custody and child support case and ordering the wrongful imprisonment of a man on false child abuse charges that were later overturned. And the Fairfax County Coalition of Advocates for Public Schools blasted Judge Finch’s handling of the controversial western boundary redistricting case.Any one of these complaints should give legislators pause as they reconsider reappointing Judge Finch. Taken together, however, they paint such a disturbing picture of judicial arrogance and disdain for the constitutional rights of citizens as to render him unfit for the bench.

Pitchfork Rebellion Instrumental in Stalling Judicial Appointment for Questionable Judge

The following piece appeared in the DC Examiner on January 27, 2009:

UPDATE: Pitchfork rebellion against Judge Finch
POSTED January 27, 2009 2:25 PM
According to Virginian Lawyers Weekly: “The Northern Virginia delegation had asked the House and Senate Courts of Justice committees to withhold certification of [Fairfax Circuit Court Judge Gaylord] Finch for reappointment until it can give further consideration to his performance.”Chairman Del. Dave Albo said Tuesday that no vote on Judge Finch’s reappointment is currently scheduled.In Fairfax County’s clubby legal circles, this is pretty astounding news. Most members of the General Assembly are lawyers who don’t want to jeopardize their livelihoods by voting against a judge they might have to appear before in the future. Unless there’s some sort of egregious misconduct involved – or a public outcry – the vast majority of judges are rubber-stamped back onto the bench year after year.

Another Pitchfork

The following piece appeared in the DC Examiner on February 4, 2009:

POSTED February 4, 2009 4:25 PM
I recently received this email from Arlington resident Mark Young:Thank you for your article regarding the judge imposter called Finch. I know Ron Jagannathan and Wes Smith well, have attended some of their hearings including some before this "judge" - and acted as Wes' court reporter in his federal court case in which he sued most of the judges in Prince William County. These men, like myself, are good, decent, law-abiding citizens who've been raped of our rights before this and numerous other judge imposter/traitors and have spent years living Kafkaesque nightmares pursing justice. The same type kidnapped my three kids in 1989 in Newport News and later continued their evil deeds in Williamsburg. My kids are grown, but only one keeps in touch because the judge imposters in my case refused to act on evidence of brainwashing by their mother. I will continue fighting for justice for myself, my children, and all other victims of the organized criminals in our family courts until I die or we obtain justice. God bless you for believing we are not just venting sour grapes over losing. When fit parents are before a court of law, there's no reason for the parents and their kids not to come out winners. These counterfeit judges intentionally create and perpetuate business for lawyers, psychologists, social workers, etc. This is human trafficking, kidnapping, extortion and slavery under color of law. I've spoken for the last three years before the Northern Virginia delegation to the General Assembly in Fairfax.

Judicial Hot Potato: Is Judge Finch Fried?

The following article appeared in the DC Examiner on February 2, 2009. Judge Gaylord L. Finch, Jr. submitted his resignation letter the same day.

Judicial hot potato: Is Judge Finch fried?By Barbara HollingsworthExaminer Columnist 2/2/09 7:56 AM
A rare pitchfork rebellion has derailed the reappointment of longtime Fairfax Circuit Court Judge Gaylord Finch, one of just two judges among 60 incumbents who were not reappointed to new terms by the Virginia General Assembly.
Finch supporters say that complaints lodged against him are just sour grapes by bitter people who lost in court. Of course, the corollary is that beneficiaries of a rigged process seldom complain.
It takes a pretty powerful sense of grievance to drive down to Richmond and face public ostracism for criticizing a veteran judge. The inherent difficulties tend to weed out most of the frivolous accusations.
And the accusations made by litigants who stepped up to condemn the former Domestic and Juvenile Relations Court judge at two recent public hearings were anything but frivolous.
They told members of the Courts of Justice Committee that Judge Finch did not follow basic legal procedures or consider their cases with due diligence, violated their constitutional rights on occasion and even failed to obey state statutes.
Taken as a whole, the accusations go far beyond individual angst over adverse rulings and speak directly to arrogant and injudicious behavior on the bench.
Elected legislators appoint judges in Virginia and can block reappointment of those who don’t measure up. However, this legislative check on the judiciary is seldom exercised. Most part-time legislators are full-time attorneys who have little incentive to anger judges they may someday have to appear before.
For a veteran judge like Finch, the General Assembly holds hearings – described by one observer as a “five-minute lovefest” - before certifying the incumbent as qualified. After a simultaneous majority vote in both houses, the judge is approved for another term. But the Northern Virginia delegation held back Judge Finch’s certification after hearing from angry citizens on December 11 and January 10:
* Judge Finch was recorded telling committee members that he was assigned to Pascale v. Fairfax County School Board - a controversial school redistricting case – just “ten minutes” before trial although court records show that he was assigned the landmark case on June 12, 2008 – a full three weeks earlier.
Angry parents claim that Judge Finch “rubber-stamped the decision of the School Board...without providing any reasoning or analysis for his decision” – as required by state law.
* An Arlington man says Judge Finch denied him due process by not allowing him to present evidence to the jury during his trial on trespassing charges, which were later dropped on appeal, for attending a 2005 party at his disabled son’s Fairfax County school. All of the defendant’s motions were mysteriously missing from the official record of action, even though they appear in a list sent to the appellate court.
* A Herndon man says Judge Finch ordered him to hand over more than $60,000 to a former Fairfax Bar Association president acting as a guardian-ad-litem and refused to issue a final ruling in his case for more than three years, instead of the required 21 days, forcing him to pay more than $200,000 in legal fees. After complaining to the chief judge, his case was finally settled on January 8.
* Court records also show that in 2007, Judge Finch took a six-year-old girl away from her single working mother and four siblings and awarded custody to the first grader’s father - "contingent" on his live-in girlfriend, who had previous drug and DUI convictions, passing random drug testing.
When another former litigant requested a copy of Finch’s Judicial Performance Evaluation, the state’s Division of Legislative Services told her via email: “Judge Finch is not one of the judges for whom the legislature received a JPE this year.” So on what basis are committee members considering his reappointment?
Citizens deserve to know before they’re subjected to Judge Finch’s questionable judgment for another eight years.
Barbara F. Hollingsworth is The Washington Examiner’s local opinion editor. She can be reached by email at:

Pitchfork Rebellion tells General Assembly to Pitch the idea of re-appointing Judge Gaylord Finch, Jr.

February 23, 2009

To Whom It May Concern:

Dave Albo wants you to fall for the oldest trick in the book – he’s telling you to re-appoint Judge Gaylord Finch and that it’s no big deal because Judge Finch says his “intent” is to retire on December 31, 2009. We’ve attached his “retirement” letter.

Judge Finch has absolutely no intention of retiring before the end of another eight year term! Dave Albo is trying to sneak Judge Finch back on the bench even though he is unqualified, has engaged in brazen judicial misconduct and no amount of remedial legal education would be sufficient for him. What’s worse, Dave Albo has admitted to VA Lawyers Weekly that he struck a deal with Judge Finch (see attached 2/20/09 article).

It is unacceptable to put Judge Finch back on the bench for any length of time because he is unfit. Our Constitution only allows for an eight year term. There is no way to re-appoint a judge for five months. Interestingly, Dave Albo tried to reassure the local delegation that if Judge Finch did not retire at the end of this year, there would be grounds for a valid JIRC complaint on the basis of his lying to the Legislature.

Judge Finch already lied to the legislators during his second judicial interview on January 10, 2009. That alone should be grounds enough not to re-appoint him. Since Judge Finch lied to the legislators once, what is to prevent him from doing so again? Judge Finch simply should not be taken at his word. He simply cannot be trusted. Don’t let Judge Finch and Dave Albo take you for a ride.

We have a solution to this problem – it’s straight out of President Obama’s political playbook. What you do not vote for cannot hurt you. If you want to be politically ubiquitous like Pres. Obama, all you have to do is NOT show up for the committee vote and NOT show up for the floor vote on Judge Finch either. This way, Judge Finch does not get re-appointed and you don’t get hurt politically.

Pitchfork Rebellion Letter to Members of the VA General Assembly

February 9, 2009

To Whom It May Concern:

This letter is to convey our serious concerns about the process by which judges are selected in the Commonwealth of Virginia and the condition of our judiciary.

We are a group of citizens from across the Commonwealth of Virginia. We have come together to oppose the re-appointment of Judge Finch to the Fairfax County Circuit Court and Judge Hauler to the Chesterfield County Circuit Court.

As dutiful citizens, we have attempted to follow this process as closely as possible as well as actively and meaningfully participate in the process. However, we have been, for the most part, shut out of the process and deliberately silenced.

We decry Judge Hauler’s attempt to quell public opposition to his re-appointment by means of a $5.35M lawsuit against his former clerk and his recent written threat to sue his neighbor Brenda Stewart, who has also spoken out publically against him.

We are gravely concerned that Judge Finch apparently lied to the Courts of Justice Committee during his second judicial interview on January 10, 2009 when asked about the landmark school re-districting case Pascale et al vs. Fairfax County School Board.

When questioned about this important case by Senator Cuccinelli, Judge Finch said he was unprepared to hear the case at trial. However, Judge Finch told the legislators the reason was that he had been assigned to the case only ten minutes before trial as an excuse. However, the official record of action in this case clearly shows Judge Finch was assigned the case three full weeks before trial and had ample opportunity to review the case before trial.

We’ve enclosed an audio CD of Judge Finch’s second judicial interview in which you will hear judge Finch make that assertion as well as the official record of action.

We applaud Senator Martin, Senator Cuccinelli and Senator Marsden for taking the citizen complaints against these judges seriously and acting responsibly.

We denounce Delegate Vivian Watts, who chaired the second judicial interview of Judge Finch, for refusing to allow a private citizen to read the one page statement of an indigent man named Wesley Smith, who alleged that Judge Finch violated his Constitutional rights and deprived him of all the elements of a fair trial. When the private citizen persisted and again asked to speak, Delegate Watts only allowed her 30 seconds to read the statement, interrupted her several times and did not let her finish.

We are very disappointed the local Chesterfield delegation completely ignored Judge Hauler’s serious problems on and off the bench and decided in favor of politics as usual and endorsed Judge Hauler. This is an abject dereliction of duty and a serious breach of the public trust. We hope that when additional information about Judge Hauler’s record becomes available this week, that the Chesterfield delegation will re-examine their position and vote responsibly in the full committee vote.

We believe a strong and independent judiciary is indispensible to the rule of law. We are governed by the principle that all should be treated fairly in the courtroom. We adhere to the great philosopher Plato’s dictum that justice is giving every man his due. The absence of justice is the unenlightened darkness of a cave.

We are contacting you today to petition that you not re-reappoint Judge Finch and Judge Hauler to judicial office.

While the Pitchfork Rebellion of 1685 was unsuccessful, we are better organized and have a very powerful weapon: the truth. Ours is a peaceful struggle to ensure that our jurists obey the laws of the Commonwealth, uphold and defend the Constitution and firmly adhere to the Rules of the Virginia Supreme Court. And if our judges fail to do so, our elected officials ought to hold them accountable.

The pitchfork in the famous 1930 American painting “American Gothic” represents hard work. We represent hardworking ordinary Virginians from across the state who rely on our judiciary and who, frankly, deserve better than Judge Finch and Judge Hauler.

The pitchfork itself is often used to remove manure from the barns, turn over the soil and uproot weeds from the earth. Today, we call upon you, our elected officials, to clean up the judiciary and weed out bad judges: exercise your legislative mandate by pitching Judge Finch and Judge Hauler.