Republican lawmaker questions courts appointment of gay judge

Posted at 11:50 PM, Jun 14, 2012
and last updated 2012-06-15 12:07:08-04

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) - Almost one month after lawmakers voted against an openly gay prosecutor serving as a General District Court judge, the Richmond Circuit Court appointed him to serve an interim position.

Tracy Thorne-Begland's appointment to the 13th Judicial District in the Manchester Courthouse will begin July 1, but some question if a line was crossed. Others stand behind the decision, calling Thorne-Begland a worthy crime fighter.

“It has nothing frankly to do with Mr. Thorne-Begland. If [the Richmond Circuit Court] would have done that to anyone we would have rejected, I would have had the same position, because that`s our responsibility,” said Republican House Majority Leader Kirk Cox.

Cox said that it’s the General Assembly’s responsibility to elect judges to the bench.

“I’m surprised and a bit disappointed that the circuit court would almost serve as an appeals court,” Cox said. Cox said that the caucus spent hours debating the original appointment.

“I don’t know of a case where they have substituted our judgment for their judgment,” said Cox.

"I was sort of glad that circuit court did this,” said Richmond’s Commonwealth Attorney Michael Herring. “He’s such an obvious good fit for that bench. He’s served the city for so many years, and his perspective is a healthy one to add to that bench.”

Thorne-Begland’s appointment is short term, lasting only about seven months.

The General Assembly must still give its consent in February 2013, 30 days after the session begins. He will need 55 votes in the House of Delegate, and 21 votes in the Senate for a permanent judgeship.

Is Thorne-Begland concerned, considering he's been rejected once before?

“I don`t know what his concerns are, but I will say that my expectation is that he will be a permanent member of that bench,” said Herring.

Herring, Thorne-Begland’s former boss emphasized that, “He won`t be a gay judge, he`ll just be a good judge. For example, you`ll walk into that courtroom and it won`t be obvious to anyone that he`s gay. His rulings won`t reflect that he`s gay. So, I guess it’s significant on the one hand, but irrelevant on the other,” Herring said.

Given that Thorne-Begland is believed to be the first openly gay judge on Virginia’s bench, Herring said it’s a momentous occasion. It is a case that has certainly gained national attention.

“I am humbled by the Circuit Court’s decision,” said Thorne-Begland in a statement to the media.

“I look forward to serving the citizens of the City of Richmond as a jurist, and over the coming months, I hope that my service provides comfort to all Virginians that I remain committed to the faithful application of the laws and Constitutions of Virginia and the United States of America.”

FOR COMPLETE COVERAGE OF THIS STORY, CLICK HERE: Tracy Thorne-Begland judicial rejection and interim appointment.