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Saturday, December 19, 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.

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