RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A diverse group of finalists for eight open seats on the Virginia Court of Appeals includes two circuit court judges, a former solicitor general of Virginia, the first Black president of the Virginia State Bar, an appellate attorney, a family law attorney and a public defender.
The candidates will be questioned by lawmakers Tuesday during public committee hearings before the slate goes before the General Assembly for a vote.
Lawmakers voted earlier this year to add six new seats to the court as part of an expansion plan aimed at providing an automatic right of appeal in all civil and criminal cases. They will also fill two vacancies on the court.
On Monday, after months of vetting by the Virginia State Bar and other legal associations, leaders in the Senate and House of Delegates announced an agreement on eight finalists to be certified and nominated for election to the court. They said they aimed for a diverse group of candidates to reflect Virginia's population.
“We are taking a historic step forward in making our legal system more equitable, expanding people's rights, as the Court of Appeals comes in step with state appellate courts around the country," Democratic House Majority Leader Charniele Herring said in a statement.
She said the finalists reflect “a great combination in race, gender, practice area and geography.”
The candidates include Doris Henderson Causey, managing attorney of the Richmond office of the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society. In 2017, she became the Virginia State Bar's first African American president.
The finalists include three other African-American candidates: Junius Fulton, a Norfolk Circuit Court judge for more than 20 years; Dominique Callins, a family law attorney at Simms Showers LLP; and Vernida Chaney, owner and attorney at Chaney Law Firm in Fairfax and a former senior assistant public defender and assistant capital defender.
The other finalists include: Lisa Lorish, of Charlottesville, an assistant federal public defender and the appellate specialist for the Western District of Virginia; Frank Friedman, of Roanoke, chief of the appellate team at Woods Rogers PLC; Daniel E. Ortiz, a judge in Fairfax Circuit Court; and Stuart Raphael, of Arlington, the former solicitor general of Virginia.
Sen. Scott Surovell said expanding the jurisdiction of the Court of Appeals means every civil and criminal case can be heard again by a three-judge panel.
"This once-in a generation opportunity will change the Court for many years to come, ensuring Virginians attain justice," Surovell said.
Republican lawmakers who voted against the court expansion accused Democrats of trying to pack the court. They also said that the Democratic majority shut them out of interviews with judicial candidates.