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Sun Gazette: Judicial Vacancy Still, Well, Vacant ... for the Time Being Print


Created:  Monday, March 12, 2012  8:30AM

General Assembly members adjourned their 2012 regular session without electing new judges, which means the Arlington delegation's pick for the 17th Judicial Circuit will have to wait a little while longer before he learns his fate.

Caught in legislative limbo, among others, is Dan Fiore, an attorney in private practice who won the support of Arlington's delegation for the Circuit Court seat left vacant by the retirement of Judge James Almand in December.

Members of the two houses of the legislature could not agree on all the details of judicial elections, including funding the positions, by the time the session concluded March 10. The matter is likely to be taken up when the General Assembly reconvenes later in the spring.

In Virginia, judges for the 31 circuits are elected by a majority vote of both houses of the General Assembly for eight-year terms. The legislature also has to provide funding for any new judges, even if those judges are replacing others who resign or retire.

Without a budget in place, the state Senate opted not to act on the judicial elections, said Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th).

Hope said he anticipated no problem for Fiore.

"He did very well at the judicial interviews," Hope said. His name "was forwarded from the House and Senate Courts of Justice committees."

Until February 2011, the 17th Circuit – which has jurisdiction in Arlington and Falls Church – had four judges. Judge Benjamin Kendrick was forced to retire when he reached age 70, reducing the ranks to three, and the retirement of Almand left the court down to two judges: Joanne Alper and Chief Judge William Newman Jr.

Alper plans to retire at the end of May, leaving Newman as the sole judge until Fiore's position is funded on July 1. As the ranks of judges have thinned, substitutes have helped fill in.

The county's legislative delegation is recommending Assistant County Attorney Louise DiMatteo as Alper's replacement, but the General Assembly has yet to provide funding or take up her case.

"I'm very disappointed we'll only end up funding two judges – Newman and Fiore – but we'll preserve the third spot," Hope said. "When funding becomes available, I'm hopeful we will fill it, sooner rather than later."