There's been much hand wringing and teeth gnashing this session about the likely failure of the General Assembly to replace retiring chief judge of the Court of Appeals, The Honorable Johanna Fitzpatrick, with another Northern Virginian. As Not Larry Sabato reports, some members of the Fairfax Bar Association have gone so far as to call the leading non-Northern Virginia candidates "unqualified" -- an assessment attacked as politically inspired.
Unnoticed and unremarked, however, is that none of the five people interviewed to replace Judge Fitzpatrick (and another retiring Judge) was a woman. Meaning that the number of women on the Appeals Court will drop from 3 of 11 to 2 of 11 (a number clearly heading the wrong direction).
Nor was any of the three candidates interviewed for three circuit court judgeships open this year a woman. Nor was any of the candidates interviewed for four district court vacancies a woman. And, only two of 10 candidates interviewed for six juvenile and domestic relations court vacancies were women (and two of the judges being replaced were women meaning that the best we can hope for is not to lose ground).
Here's the list of those interviewed this year:
Randolph A. Beales
Judge Victor V. Ludwig
Judge R. Terrence Ney
William G. Petty
Judge John E. Wetsel, Jr.
James C. Hawks
Josiah Thomas Showalter, Jr.
Judge Alfred M. Tripp
General District or Juvenile Court
R. Glennwood Lookabill
S. Clark Daugherty
Ashley K. Tunner
Robert S. Brewbaker, Jr.
J. Frank Buttery, Jr.
Ronald L. Napier
Steven T. Buck
Margaret W. Deglau
Richard S. Wallerstein, Jr.
Edward S. Whitlock, III
Jimmy Don Bolt
Thomas B. Dix, Jr.
As of 2003, women comprised about 30% of the legal profession and 49% of the law school graduates. At large firms, 16% of the partners were women in 2003. That last number makes our declining percentage of appellate judges look acceptable at 18%, but certainly our goal ought to be higher, and we should certainly be trying not to lose ground.
It is simply not okay for the legislature not even to seek to interview a more diverse pool of candidates, particularly when they are replacing some of the few women already serving on the bench.
The House and Senate Courts Committees who interview the candidates to assure that they are qualified (before the Republican House and Senate Caucuses decide whom to elect) need to do a better job of identifying qualified women and minority candidates for Virgina's judgeships.
The majority of residents of Virginia who are women deserve to have a judiciary that better reflects our presence among potential litigants.
After all, shouldn't majority rule?