Virginia court system ‘crippled’ by political dispute over appointing judges

Virginia court system ‘crippled’ by political dispute over appointing judges

By Antonio Olivo

November 22, 2018

A political stalemate in Fairfax County has left several local court seats vacant, delaying criminal ­cases and child-custody disputes in Virginia’s largest judicial circuit.

At the center of the controversy is Del. Tim Hugo (R-Fairfax), whose mostly western Fairfax district became an island of red in Northern Virginia after a wave of Democratic victories in 2017 that left Republicans with only slim majorities in the state Senate and House of Delegates.

Early this year, Hugo — the sole and, therefore, ranking Republican among Fairfax delegates — ended a bipartisan approach to selecting judges in the 19th Judicial Circuit and began nominating his own candidates, cutting out Democrats in a dispute where each side accuses the other of politicizing what should be a sober process of filling empty seats.

The battle will pick up again in January, when the General Assembly begins a new legislative session with three judicial vacancies in Fairfax and a fourth expected after Circuit Court Judge Jan L. Brodie retires at the start of the year.

Political analysts say the dispute could hurt Hugo politically heading into next fall’s elections, with Democrats eager to seize control of one or both chambers.

“This is the first year that there’s ever been controversy surrounding this process,” said Del. Vivian E. Watts (D-Fairfax), who has served two stints in the House of Delegates, from 1982 to 1986 and again since 1996. Watts accused Hugo of returning to “an old boys’ club” approach.