New judge to take a seat

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RICHMOND — A new 5th Judicial District judge will soon take over a seat in the General District Courts, depending on the decisions of certain legislators at the General Assembly.

The 5th Judicial District is home to the counties of Isle of Wight and Southampton, and the cities of Suffolk and Franklin, according to the Virginias Judicial System Web site. The seat opening up belongs to Judge Robert B. Edwards of Smithfield.

Judge Edwards is retiring because there is a mandatory age 70 limit for Virginia judges, said Delegate William K. Barlow, D-Smithfield, a member of the Courts of Justice Committee in the House of Delegates.

With Edwards pending retirement, the process to find another judge to fill the vacancy has begun. The Courts of Justice Committees of both the House and Senate will publicly interview candidates in Richmond, initially. Then they will each take separate votes on whether the candidates are qualified to obtain the position.

While the outcome of the voting does carry some weight, the final decision is made by legislators who represent the district seeking the new judge, Barlow said. In this case, the legislators representing any area within the 5th Judicial District would finalize the decision.

These legislators include Sens. L. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth; Mamie E. Locke, D-Hampton and Frederick M. Quayle, R-Suffolk; and Delegates Barlow, Lionel Spruill Sr., D-Chesapeake; Johnny S. Joannou, D-Portsmouth; Roslyn C. Tyler, D-Sussex County, and S. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk.

Barlow said there are a number of candidates who have already expressed their interest in the six year term judgeship to the Courts of Justice Committees.

Barlow also said party control of the chambers could make the selection process slightly more difficult.

Unfortunately, the practice in the past was that the decision is made by those local legislators in both the House and Senate who are in the majority party at that time, Barlow said.  The complicating factor in this 2008 session is that the majority party in the Senate (is) the Democrats and the majority party in the House (is) the Republicans.

In previous election years, both parties have experienced majority control of both chambers at once. While the decision might not be extremely clear-cut, Barlow hopes the outcome will accurately represent the views of both sides.

The election of a judge at this 2008 legislation session will hopefully be a more bipartisan process than it has been in past years, Barlow said.

The qualifications for everyone being considered on the floor are the same for each applicant. The applicant must be either an attorney or a judge of another court and must reside in the 5th Judicial District.

Barlow said the committees also look to see if prospective judges possess wisdom, common sense and knowledge of the law, judicial temperament, fairness, experience and respect for the citizens appearing in his or her court.

Until the legislators decide who will be given the position, Judge Edwards will continue to preside over cases in court on a regular basis.

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