Home 2017 Races Tim Hugo Puts the F-I-X in Fairfax Judicial Nominations

Tim Hugo Puts the F-I-X in Fairfax Judicial Nominations

Hugo Says No to First Female, Asian-American Judge in Virginia

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It seems like every day I find new and more aggravating reasons why we cannot rest here in Virginia until we take the majority in the General Assembly. Today, let me tell you how Delegate Tim Hugo (R-Fairfax County, Prince William County), the one who we should’ve been able to replace with Democrat Donte Tanner this past November, is trying to undermine a 35-year old bipartisan agreement in Fairfax County for making judicial appointments, to prevent Virginia from appointing its first female Asian-American judge.

First, let me (try to) explain how judicial appointments work in Virginia. When a vacancy occurs, it must be filled during the General Assembly session by a majority vote of the members of each house. Typically, the legislators representing the area where the vacancy lies (the “local delegation”) jointly decide on the nominees, and offer those names to the floor for a vote (following certification by the Courts of Justice Committees). In most areas of Virginia, this is a highly partisan process, whereby the majority-party members who are in the local delegation tell their Caucus who to vote for. This leads to more conservative judges being appointed when the General Assembly has a Republican majority.

In addition to the partisan nature of this process, the lack of oversight and nonpartisan vetting of judicial candidates has led to numerous cases where judicial appointments have smelled like nepotism and cronyism. For example, in 2008, the re-election of Judge John Farmer was suddenly blocked by Senator Phillip Puckett (D), whose daughter argued cases regularly before Judge Farmer. Puckett later resigned from his seat, replace by A. Benton Chafin, who was the principal for the law firm Puckett’s daughter worked at. And Puckett’s daughter was appointed to the judgeship. So, it looks a whole lot like Puckett traded his Senate seat to Chafin in exchange for a judgeship for his daughter. Oh, and by the way, the replacement of Puckett with Chafin flipped control of the State Senate, which was considering Medicaid expansion at the time, to Republicans. Gotta love the “Virginia Way!”

(Fun fact: Chafin’s sister, who was seated to the court before he took office, is up for re-confirmation in 2020.)

But the Fairfax delegation decided in the 1980s to develop a better process for nominating judges, more transparent, more bipartisan, and less subject to this kind of cronyism. And for 35 or so years, it’s been a model for other localities to follow. In Fairfax, the local Bar Associations’ Judicial Screening Panel interviews and thoroughly vets all those who apply for the vacant judgeship. Each one is ranked as highly recommended, recommended, qualified, or not qualified. Following this, their entire membership votes on the candidates, ultimately forwarding a list of endorsed names to the Fairfax delegation (consisting of 25 legislators). The Fairfax delegation then conducts their own interviews of the candidates, in a hearing that is open to the public. Following the interviews, they vote by secret ballot on which name to offer to the floor for a vote, with each legislator having one vote, regardless of how much of his/her district is within Fairfax.

For all 35 years they’ve been following this nonpartisan two-step process, regardless of which party holds a majority in the General Assembly; and typically the General Assembly accepts the recommendation of the Fairfax delegation. When retired Delegate Dave Albo (R) was part of the delegation, he had a vote and thought the process worked well. But suddenly now, Hugo, who barely won re-election this past November, claims to be dissatisfied with the process. And although he didn’t even attend the interview session this year, claiming a schedule conflict, one of his complaints about the process is that the legislators aren’t given enough time to review the candidates beforehand–which isn’t really true, as the only information that they don’t have access to until they enter the hearing is a candidate application form that contains confidential personal details about the candidates.

Hugo has essentially blocked the election of at least one (possibly two, depending on budget) judge for Fairfax county. Despite being one Republican out of a delegation of 25 legislators. Despite having only about 2% of the Fairfax population within his district. I have to wonder why? Would Hugo prefer Fairfax follow other regions of Virginia and allow crony appointments? Would he like to just pick the judge himself, perhaps he has a friend or business partner or family member he’d like to appoint?

There are real consequences to this. Not just for Maha-Rebekah Abejuela and Jonathan Frieden, who were recommended by the Fairfax Bar Association Judicial Screening Panel, but for the hundreds of children and low-income families whose cases would come before these judges. Thanks to Tim Hugo, those children and low-income families will now have to wait much longer for decisions about their lives to be made, because prolonged judicial vacancies mean high caseloads and longer delays. In sum, Hugo is diminishing the quality of justice in Fairfax County – for what reasons, only Hugo knows.

  • James McCarthy

    It seems reasonably clear in light of Thugo’s political inclinations that his tactic is designed to leverage for another objective. Perhaps he wants to insure against a veto of his country club legislation. It’ll come out sooner or later.

  • Ha! Corey Stewart (right about something for once) calls Tim Hugo’s country club bill “crony capitalism at its worst”

    http://bluevirginia.us/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/coreyarlingtoncrony.jpg

  • Dave Arlington

    Reading through everything today and I notice this blog has an obsession with Hugo…What’s the deal? Also, the bill passed with bipartisan support because what Arlington appears to be doing is completely out of line. If Corey Stewart opposes it, it’s probably a good thing.

    • Hugo almost lost to Donte Tanner in 2017, is one of the most vulnerable (and awful) Republicans in the Virginia House of Delegates, and we’re going to beat his sorry a** in 2019. 😉

      • Dave Arlington

        Donte was a good candidate. And that’s what makes what I’m about to say all the more prescient. It’s hard to call a Delegate “vulnerable” when, against a solid candidate, in Northern Virginia, in the best year for Democratss in 100 years, he won. This WAS our best shot. 2019 won’t have the same feel as 2017. To me that says, “spend your ammo elsewhere.”

        • You’re right, throw in the towel right now, no hope! LOL, just kidding – we’re gonna kick Hugo’s sorry ass!

          • Dave Arlington

            What’s that old definition of insanity? Repeating the same experiment over and over and expecting different results? You almost sound like Corey, sir. Not a sermon, just a thought.

          • Right, Democrats are “insane” to think that we can beat Tim Hugo in 2019 (which most of us do, btw). Duly noted. 😉

          • Dave Arlington

            Look, I understand the rah-rah, us against them, they bad we good attitude with which this blog was founded. I’m just pointing out that the man has faced an opponent in like 6 elections now, and I’m sure you thought all of them could win too. Seems like it’d be smarter to spend money and time with a reasonable expectation of return, which I don’t see in the 40th. That’s all.

          • Thanks for the helpful advice. 😉

          • frankoanderson

            You might be right that we can’t defeat Hugo… that is, if he sees the writing on the wall and decides not to run next year.

          • I can’t decide if I’d rather have the guy bug out – especially now that he’s pissed off a bunch of his fellow Republicans, such as Fairfax Supervisor John Cook – or if it would be more fun to beat his sorry ass. I guess either will do. 🙂

        • Cindy

          At the same time, the number of targets for US is also down in 2019. We can canvass the heck out of Hugo’s district.