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Sun Gazette: Legislative Delegation Settles on Judicial Picks to Fill Circuit Court Vacancies Print


Created:  Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Arlington delegation to the General Assembly has agreed upon another candidate for a Circuit Court judgeship, but will have to wait to see what legislators opt to do about filling one current and one looming vacancy.

The local delegation recently settled on Louise DiMatteo, a lawyer in the office of the county attorney and president-elect of the Arlington Bar Association, as its choice for the Circuit Court seat set to be vacated in the spring by Judge Joanne Alper.

DiMatteo has been an attorney for more than two decades, having graduated from the Washington & Lee University School of Law. Her bid for the judgeship received a "highly recommended" designation – the highest possible – from the Arlington Bar Association Judicial Screening Committee.

Before coming to the Arlington county attorney's office, DiMatteo was an assistant county attorney and a senior assistant public defender in Fairfax County and an attorney specializing in insurance issues with the firm Siciliano, Ellis, Dyer & Boccarosse.

The selection of DiMatteo rounds out the Arlington delegation's decision-making for two vacancies on the 17th Judicial Circuit, which includes Arlington and the city of Falls Church. The delegation previously endorsed attorney Dan Fiore for the vacancy created by the Dec. 31 retirement of Judge James Almand.

In Virginia, Circuit Court judges are elected by the General Assembly for eight-year terms. Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th) told the Sun Gazette that the local delegation hopes to have at least one of the slots filled before Alper leaves the bench at the end of May.

Several years ago, the General Assembly opted, as a cost-saving measure, to stop automatically filling judicial vacancies, and legislators have been scrutinizing whether every circuit and district court needs as many judges as it currently has.

The ranks of the 17th Circuit earlier had been thinned by the departure of Judge Benjamin Kendrick, who was forced off the bench a year ago when he reached the state-mandated retirement age of 70. (Kendrick, however, continues to serve as a substitute judge in courtrooms across Northern Virginia.)

No successor to Kendrick was elected by the General Assembly, reducing the court from four judges to three. Almand's retirement cut that number to two and, without General Assembly action, the court would be down to just Chief Judge William Newman Jr. when Alper retires.

The General Assembly could act on the vacancies in its annual veto session, set for April. If action isn't taken then, the appointments likely would put off until later in the year, when the General Assembly reconvenes in what is expected to be a special session to deal with health care.

Under ordinary circumstances, Gov. McDonnell could fill the vacancies temporarily by appointment once the legislature goes out of session. But only the General Assembly has the power to fund the slots, something that would tie the governor's hands even if he had the inclination to make the appointments.