Empty bench presents problem

Published 10:00 am Friday, March 14, 2014

TRACY AGNEW/Suffolk News-Herald

A year after stalemating on the appointment of a judge to the Fifth Judicial Circuit, which includes Southampton and Isle of Wight counties as well as the cities of Franklin and Suffolk, the General Assembly once again is faced with an empty bench and a decision to make.

Then-Gov. Bob McDonnell made the decision for the General Assembly last summer, when he appointed Robert Sandwich, who came from the Suffolk Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office.

But now Judge Rodham T. Delk has retired as of March 1, leaving only two judges — Sandwich and Carl E. Eason — to cover Suffolk, Franklin and Southampton and Isle of Wight counties.

The General Assembly had trouble this session deciding how many judges to fund across the state this year, never mind who will replace Delk. Both houses agreed there should be three judges in the Fifth Circuit, but were having trouble deciding in some other parts of the state. A compromise was agreed to on Saturday, the last day of the regular session.

Suffolk Delegate Chris Jones, the House Appropriations chair, was among the six who sat on the conference committee for the bills. The group also included Sen. Thomas Norment Jr., who represents a small portion of North Suffolk.

A number of local members of the bar are rumored to be under consideration for the position.

The General Assembly will not consider whom to appoint until its veto session, set to begin April 23.

Until a decision on the new judge is reached and he or she is seated, Delk and his retired counterparts may be called upon to serve as substitute judges.

Meanwhile, the General Assembly has reduced the number of General District Court judges for the Fifth District from three to two.