Circuit and District Judge Candidates Answer Questions at Public Hearing
A pair of Shenandoah Valley judges is retiring at the end of December. The people vying to wear those robes faced a public hearing Tuesday night with a key endorsement on the line.
The General Assembly will appoint new judges for the district and circuit vacancies in the valley. But legislators are likely to put great weight on an endorsement from the Augusta County Bar Association, and that group is weighing Tuesday night.
Circuit Judge Humes Franklin Junior - whose 25th Circuit includes Staunton, Waynesboro and Augusta County - has reached the mandatory retirement age of 70. District Court Judge William Heatwole has also decided to step down.
Seven attorneys seeking those two openings are answering a series of questions from the bar association, with the hope of getting its endorsement. There were seven questions for seven attorneys. One was pretty basic - why they want to be judges.
Augusta County Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Rupen Shah said, "To be a judge has been my lifelong dream. I believe that I am qualified, competent, have enough training. And [I] have practiced in this court for 15 years."
Shelly James, also a District Court judge candidate, answered, "I tend to be thoughtful. And when I approached a couple of people about this they said... Yes, put your hat in the ring. Go for it. I also think that I would make a good judge."
There were meatier questions too, intended to show just what kind of judge each candidate might be. For instance, the judge's role when the attorneys present an agreement.
C.J. Thomas III, a Circuit Court judge candidate, said, "When both sides of a case have reached an agreement and it has been put into paper as an order and both have endorsed the order. I think that the Circuit Court judge ought to enter that order assuming it appears on its face to be okay."
Waynesboro Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney David Ledbetter said, "Some of the factors that a court needs to look at and make a decision whether they're going to accept or reject. Is it intelligently and knowingly made by the defendant? Is it something he has voluntarily agreed to? Does it provide adequate protection to the community?"
The candidates were also asked about their views on alternative sentencing like the drug treatment programs.
Tate Love, a District Court judge candidate, responded, "I think the reason alternative punishment is essential to the future of criminal justice in America is because the facts are that we imprison an increasingly alarming percentage of our population."
John Hill, also a District Court judge candidate, stated, "It's incumbent upon the judges, and this is where it's important, on the judges to know which alternative sentencing, or which period of incarceration or incarceration at all or probation is appropriate for each defendant."
The attorneys also had the opportunity to tell the public who they are as people.
Juvenile District Court Judge Charles Rickets III said, "I'm a husband. I'm a father. I'm a grandfather. I'm Chuck Rickets. I've tried hard not to change. To be the same person. And I've done the same after I got appointed to the bench."
The three candidates vying for the Circuit Court judgeship answered an additional three questions. The Augusta Bar Association will make its recommendation to the General Assembly by this December.