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Sun Gazette: Judgeships Still in Limbo, Awaiting Legislators' Return Print


Created:  Friday, April 20, 2012  5:00AM

Hopes to get judicial elections through the General Assembly this week were dashed, but local legislators say they can still be accomplished in coming weeks.

Legislators went home from two days of dealing with the budget and gubernatorial vetoes without acting on statewide judicial appointments, leaving Arlington and Falls Church officials without a guarantee that the two judicial vacancies – one existing, one upcoming – will be filled.

Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th), who is coordinating the Arlington delegation's efforts on judicial selection, said he was hopeful action will be taken when legislators reconvene in a mop-up session the second week of May.

Until then, local attorneys Dan Fiore and Louise DiMatteo remain in limbo. The Arlington delegation has endorsed their appointments to the Circuit Court, but until the legislature acts, it's not a done deal.

Fiore, an attorney in private practice, has been tapped by the local delegation to succeed Judge James Almand, who retired in December. DiMatteo, who is on the staff of the county attorney's office in Arlington, is slated to succeed Judge Joanne Alper, who is retiring at the end of May.

Without legislative action, the seats would remain vacant unless Gov. McDonnell made recess appointments. Were that to happen, Fiore and DiMatteo could serve until next year's legislative session, when they would have to formally be elected by the General Assembly.

Hope said that a recess appointment wouldn't be his preferred alternative, but it has been used before. Almand, for one, was appointed to the Circuit Court by Gov. Warner in the summer of 2003, and went on to be elected by the legislature, where he previously had been a member.

Fiore already has undergone the interview process with legislative leaders, but DiMatteo has yet to do so. Circuit Court judges are elected by the General Assembly for eight-year terms.

Until February 2011, the 17th Judicial Circuit had four full-time judges. If no action on the two judgeships is taken prior to Alper's retirement, the court, which covers Arlington and Falls Church, would be down to a single permanent judge, with substitute judges used to fill in the gaps.