Thursday, February 24, 2005
Editorial: 'For sale' signs taint judicial selections
Charges that political donations, not merit, decided a New River Valley appointment reveal why legislators should not appoint judges.
From the RoundTable blog
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On the other is a Republican candidate who was rejected by the Radford-Montgomery Bar Association but, unlike his rival, had made large financial contributions to GOP causes. And the expected choice of the General Assembly - in fact, the only one it even interviewed - is...?
Circumstantial evidence that the Republican-controlled assembly has been swayed by Marc Long's checkbook isn't conclusive. But it's strong enough to illustrate again why the partisan-by-nature legislature is the wrong place for appointments that should be based on merit.
Political influence, and especially money, should play no part in selecting the judges Virginians need to administer justice wisely, competently and impartially.
The fault did not originate with the Republicans. When Democrats controlled Richmond, the judiciary was a spoils system for them, too - and the GOP railed against it. Somehow, though, once power fell to Republicans, creation of a merit-based system lost support.
The result is more problematic appointments such as Long's. His fellow lawyers endorsed him in 2002 for a circuit court seat, but many consider him unsuited to the sensitive tasks of Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court. Others find it troubling, too, that he fired his law partner when the partner's wife, Meg Stone, also sought the 27th District judgeship.
The money trail is more troubling than a spurned bar association, however. When the assembly chose someone else over Long in 2002, Long had donated a mere $750 in the last six years. In 2003-04, he contributed $19,000 to GOP causes. Stone gave $750.
Del. Dave Nutter, R-Christiansburg, and Sen. Brandon Bell, R-Roanoke County, denied money has anything to do with the selection. According to one bar member, however, Nutter said Long would get the job because he had influential backers.
So if money didn't decide it, politics did.
This is no way to create a competent, impartial judiciary. Virginia needs either a nonpartisan selection commission or a system of gubernatorial appointments and Senate confirmation that will at least reduce naked political influence and focus on judicial merit.