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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 info@pitchforkrebellion.org 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:
http://www.box.net/shared/ig6uhm8hxc

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." http://www.roanoke.com/editorials/wb/174080 
Its time for merit-based selection of judges.  The future of Virginia's judiciary depends upon it.

2 comments:

  1. What was not mentioned is that Mr. Normet, who stood up for several judges for appointment and reappoint is holding 2 positions with the state. That of Delegate ($17,500+ per year) and that of legal advisor to the College of William and Mary ($160,000 per year). The Commonwealths Attorney General is supposed to be the legal advisor to the College as it recieves state funding, not Mr. Normet. He is also the person, appointed by Circut Court Judge Powell, who disposes of property that must be sold under court order (est $350,000 per year compensation). It is alledged that he is triple dipping. What state employee makes over $500,000 per year and flies this far under the radar?

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  2. I wish I had known this was happening and could have come to speak against Judge Fairbanks in Williamsburg. I have a group of women now that I have gathered together that have experienced the same injustice in his courtroom that I have for the last 6 years to try to make sure that someone listens to us and that justice can finally be served in Williamsburg.

    Some of the stories I have heard from other women are actually worst than mine or very similiar.

    How anyone in our government would endorse Judge Fairbanks means you must not have set in on how he handles his cases.

    He is very biased and has stated on the bench that he is an advocate for the fathers rights. He always goes in favor of the father in most cases. The only time when I have been in the court that he has not was because the woman was a family friend of Judge Fairbanks because I actually followed her to find out.

    He doesn't follow through with any consequences to the man for violating court orders. My ex husband is now 15,000 behind in child support and has never spent a night in jail, has never had his license suspended or anything.

    Anytime anything positive happens is when a substitute judge is there. The last time that happened the judge ordered that 1400 be paid over a 2 month period or my ex would go to jail for 12 months. When we go back to court he has not paid a dime so I am expecting Judge Fairbanks to stand by what the other Judge said and send him to jail. Well then my ex says I did bring $500 with me today and the Judge said what a coincidence, I just wrote down that you could get out of jail for $500.

    He continually makes jokes out of my case anytime we are before him. He jokes about how thick my file is. The last time I was in there he told me they were talking about us and decided that I wanted to get back with my ex and that was why I was filing these papers so that I could see him. That was so innappropriate and completely uncalled for. Then he stands there and has a little personal conversation with my ex about heating and air.

    When I first started dealing with him with an assault case and custody and visitation, I had both the victim advocacy lady and one of his baliffs tell me I would never get anywhere with him and not to get my hopes up because he was all for the man.

    I have tried to have my case moved to York county because my husband and my son reside there now, but Judge Powell has refused to move my case out of spite. He says he wouldn't do that to another judge but he doesn't want to lose control over making my live miserable!!

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