In a Jan. 2 oped in the Richmond Times Dispatch, Irving Blank, president of the Virginia State Bar, said the General Assembly’s 2010 freeze on hiring more judges has created "a judicial crisis" in the commonwealth.
Virginia has a judicial crisis, all right, but it’s not due to a lack of judges. It’s due to the virtual impossibility of getting bad judges off the bench.
Members of bar associations nominate their members and the General Assembly votes to put them on the bench – and keep them there. Since most part-time legislators are full-time practicing attorneys, this process contains an inherent conflict of interest that pits legislators against their own constituents.
So it was no surprise that on Tuesday, the state Senate voted 39-to-0 to approve all 59 judges up for reappointment on Virginia’s Court of Appeals, Circuit Courts, General District Courts and Juvenile and Domestic Relations Courts. The House of Delegates did the same on a 92-to-0 vote.
Not one single legislator in either the House or Senate had any second thoughts about any of these judges.
The General Assembly’s Courts of Justice committees had rubber-stamped all the judicial reappointments as though every single judge on the list was a paragon of professional and ethical jurisprudence. In doing so, they ignored the citizens who traveled to Richmond last month to testify that such was not the case.
Such as Arlington resident Nancy Hey, who told legislators on Dec. 10, 2010 that Arlington J&DR Judge Esther Wiggins Lyles had "signed an Emergency Removal Order [for Hey’s then three-week-old daughter Sabrina] presented to her by Arlington Child Protective Services without allowing my husband, myself or any legal counsel to be present to challenge the removal order."
All because Hey’s newborn lost 10 ounces after birth.
"Judge Wiggins Lyles then placed Sabrina in the custody of an assistant federal prosecutor for the Department of Justice and his wife. Arlington CPS leveled a charge of the highest level of child neglect against us," Hey testified. "This charge, however, was later overturned upon appeal to a hearings officer in Richmond, who stated that CPS lacked evidence for this charge."
Without granting Hey’s constitutionally protected right of due process, and without even any evidence that she was neglecting her daughter, Judge Wiggins Lyles terminated her parental rights and allowed the prosecutor and his wife to adopt her blonde, blue-eyed baby.
Judge Wiggins did the same thing to Benita Washington, even refusing to grant custody of her then eight-year-old son Moses to Washington’s cousin, a licensed social worker in D.C. Yet not one legislator had enough mental reservations about this judge to vote against her reappointment.
On Dec. 20, Arlington attorney Roy Morris presented COJ members with hundreds of pages of documentation of the "serious failures and misdeeds of Judge Wiggins" in cutting off all contact between Dr. Ariel King and her seriously ill seven-year-old daughter.
House COJ members ignored Morris’ testimony and did not voice a single dissent to a motion to certify all 59 judges up for reappointment "in a block". They didn’t even bother reading the name of each judge up for reappointment – including Judge Wiggins - before rubber-stamping a secret list in apparent violation of the General Assembly’s own open meetings statute.
"I respectfully submit that the Jan. 12, 2011 vote on the nominations for Judges of the House of Delegates appears to be null and void because there was no open disclosure of whose nomination was being considered in that vote," Morris said in a Jan. 17 letter to delegates.
"Instead, the vote was only for a ‘list’ with undisclosed names [which were] not read out loud before the vote, nor was any unique identifier provided that would assure that everyone was voting for the same list of nominees for reappointment."
Last November, Iowa voters angry over court-imposed same-sex marriage recalled three of seven justices of their state Supreme Court who were up for reelection. It was the first time since 1962, when Iowa adopted its current system of judicial selection, that a Supreme Court justice was thrown off the bench.
Northern Virginia voters can’t directly oust bad judges. But they can do the next best thing by retiring COJ members of the See-No-Evil Caucus: Senators Janet Howell, D-Reston, Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, Toddy Puller, D-Arlington, and Dick Saslaw, D-Springfield, and Delegates Dave Albo, R-Springfield, Jackson Miller, R-Manassas, Vivian Wattts, D- Annandale, Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria, and Patrick Hope, D-Arlington.