Athey judgeship tangled in politics
January 27, 2012
By MELISSA BOUGHTON
WINCHESTER — Partisan politics appears to be behind another postponement Thursday of a Virginia Senate vote to appoint former Republican Del. Clifford L. “Clay” Athey Jr. to fill a vacant seat in the 26th Judicial Circuit.
Athey, the former delegate representing Frederick and Warren counties, was nominated by the Shenandoah Valley Caucus to fill the vacancy in November after John Prosser retired in February. The caucus is made up of all the delegates and senators from the localities that comprise the circuit.
The 26th covers Winchester and Harrisonburg and Frederick, Clarke, Rockingham, Page, Shenandoah and Warren counties.
Athey and former Democratic Del. Clarence E. “Bud” Phillips from Russell County were scheduled to have their appointments to the ranks of judges voted on in the Senate on Thursday — after a standoff between Republicans and Democrats postponed the voting Tuesday
The squabble, however, appears to be bigger than the two new judge candidates.
Democrats and Republicans are split 20-20 in the Senate. And although the GOP has an effective majority when Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling can cast a tiebreaking vote, he is not permitted to do so when it comes to judges (and the budget).
Democrats in the Senate are only willing to vote on reappointments — not the election of prospective new judges like Clifford L. “C lay” Athey and Clarence E. “Bud” Phillips.
“There was a little bit of heartburn over the organization of the Senate,” Sen. Jill H. Vogel, R-Upperville, said Thursday.
Both judge candidates have approval of the Senate Courts of Justice Committee. But at this time, Democrats in the Senate are only willing to vote on reappointments — not the election of prospective new judges like Athey and Phillips.
“They decided that in the two categories they could control [the budget and judges] . . . that’s where they’re stopping,” Vogel said. The Senate approved all sitting judges Thursday — including 26th Judicial Circuit Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court Judge Ronald Lewis Napier and 26th Judicial Circuit General District Court Judge W. Dale Houff — and sent the resolution with the two new appointments back to the Senate Courts Committee.
Although the two new appointments were sent back, however, Vogel made a point to reiterate that the postponement is not about the candidates.
“They (Democrats) went out of their way to say this is not about the individuals . . . It is not about their qualifications,” Vogel said. “Nobody is arguing who should be the judge.”
It is unclear when the new appointments will be taken up again, but a deadline has been set to revisit them by March 7.
If the Democrats decide not to break the deadlock on the new appointments, Vogel said, it will become an appointment process and not a legislative process.
She added that when politics get in the way of doing the people’s business — which is what they are there for, she said — it is a “grave tragedy.” “These judgeships desperately need to be filled,” she said. “It is a grave, grave hardship [in the courts].”
The resolution put on hold by the Senate had Athey scheduled to be seated Feb. 1.
The Republican-led House of Delegates approved the judges without dissent.
Athey, a 51-year-old lawyer from Front Royal, is the outgoing 18th District delegate in the General Assembly.
He was first elected in 2002, but did not seek re-election in November.
According to Virginia law, the requirements for the position are that the prospective judge must have been a member of the bar for five years and reside in the circuit.
If Athey is appointed, he will likely sit primarily in Frederick County Circuit Court — among the largest caseloads in the state — where Prosser heard more than 3,000 cases in 2010.
Since Prosser’s retirement, substitute judges have been helping with the caseload.
Repeated calls to Athey — who was recently seen apparently preparing for the new judgeship by viewing proceedings in Warren County Circuit Court — were not returned.
— Contact Melissa Boughton at firstname.lastname@example.org
Va. economy is Job 1
Law makers name their priorities
January 09, 2012
By JOYCE BARRETT
The Winchester Star
WINCHESTER — Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell has promised that the 2012 session of the General Assembly that opens Wednesday will be focused on jobs creation and economic development.
The commonwealth’s legislative plans reflect the priorities in the governor’s $ 84,862,344,761 budget for 2012-2014.
Sen. Jill Vogel, R- 27th, said she has asked to become a member of the Senate Finance Committee to be more involved in the state’s fiscal matters.
“The governor’s proposal is a good starting point,” she said. “Everything we will address will have a fiscal impact. No matter what the legislation is, it becomes secondary to a larger budget process. If there are no resources allocated, what can you do?”
McDonnell’s budget proposal provides for tax credits up to 10 percent of the investment made in small businesses; a two-year extension through 2014 of a major business job tax credit; and an extension to mid-2015 on a tax deduction for income taxed as a long-term capital gain.
The governor also has proposed creation of a grant program for forestry and agricultural programs.
Vogel said she plans to advocate a “do-no-harm” approach when making program cuts. She also doesn’t want to impose any unfunded mandates on localities or shift additional fiscal responsibilities to cities and counties that the state can no longer afford.
“We need to be mindful of the position we are in and don’t make it worse,” she said.
Vogel has a package of almost 30 bills she’s working on that she says are driven by constituent requests. One would permit localities to establish the local school calendar instead of having it set by the state.
Another legislative proposal she is drafting was sparked by a visit to the neonatal critical care unit at Winchester Medical Center. The plan would aim at reducing substance abuse among pregnant women.
In addition, Vogel is proposing legislation to expand investment to broadband Internet services throughout her district.
Del. Beverly Sherwood, R- 29th, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, also expects that much of the deliberations will be budgetary.
“The budget will be a challenge,” she said. “We’re still hoping our revenues will pick up this year. We’re looking for job growth.”
The area’s delegation has a laundry list of requests from counties and cities that will be the foundation for much of their legislative proposals. While more legislation will be introduced as the session progresses, each member has several legislative ideas for the beginning of the new session. Del. J. Randall “Randy” Minchew, R- 10th, has legislative proposals from the Frederick and Clarke boards of supervisors. One would make technical adjustments to precinct boundaries.
One piece of legislation was generated from his door- to- door campaigning, he said. Numerous constituents asked that homeschooled children be allowed to try out and participate in public school athletic teams, and Minchew is proposing they be given the opportunity. Minchew also said he plans to propose that the state transportation trust fund, which is intended for capital improvements, not be used to fund maintenance on existing roads. Clarke, Frederick and Loudoun county officials have asked Minchew to propose that counties not be responsible for meeting an Environmental Protection Agency requirement that they curb industrial emissions of phosphorus, nitrogen and sediment that eventually ends up in the Chesapeake Bay. “I don’t want to see unfunded mandates on county boards,” Minchew said. Sherwood also has some legislative ideas for her district. Stephens City and Middletown have asked her to propose a bill that they move their voting date for town elections from May to November, an idea that would save them money and potentially promise better voter turnout. In addition, Sherwood will propose a bill that would give localities the authority to designate areas in which free handicapped parking benefits would not apply. Because Winchester’s four parking garages have been automated, there’s no way to determine whether someone has a handicapped parking pass, she said.
In addition, Sherwood says she plans to propose that the treasurers of Winchester and the counties be permitted to carry concealed weapons within courthouses. Sherwood also plans to propose a commendation for the 125th anniversary of the agricultural experiment station in Frederick County, which opened March 1, 1886. It is now called the Alson H. Smith Jr. Agricultural Research and Extension Center and is located on Laurel Grove Road.
Del. Joe May, R-33rd, said he plans to introduce a bill that would make electronic stalking illegal. The legislation, which was generated by a constituent whose ex-wife put an electronic tracking device on his car without his knowledge, moved through the House of Delegates last year and is in the Senate. May’s plan would make it illegal to put tracking devices on someone or their property without their knowledge. May also is seeking to streamline the Department of Motor Vehicles so more of its work is automated. In addition, he wants to change how over weight trucks are permitted so they would be fined on a sliding scale based on their weight overages. Current law provides 37 exemptions for overweight trucks, he said.
“This is one case in which one size fits all,” May said.
May said he was looking forward to the new session. “I’ll be going back among friends and people I look forward to working with,” he said.
— Contact Joyce Barrett at jbarrett@winchester star.com