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From the Archives: 3 Virginia legislators explain their votes against gay judge candidate

3 Virginia legislators explain their votes against gay judge candidate
May 20, 2012 3:52 PM MST

Virginia General Assembly gay judge Tracy Thorne-Begland
In separate interviews at the Fifth Congressional District Republican Convention on May 19, three members of the Virginia House of Delegates offered virtually identical explanations for their votes to reject openly-gay prosecutor Tracy Thorne-Begland’s nomination to be a General District Court judge.

The rejection of Thorne-Begland made national headlines last week after a post-midnight roll call failed to return the 51 votes needed to approve his election as a judge who presides over traffic citations, minor crimes, and small claims. (In other states, the occupant of such a bench might be known as a magistrate or justice of the peace.)

None of the three, interviewed by the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner on the grounds of Hampden-Sydney College near Farmville, mentioned the fact that Thorne-Begland is gay or that he is married to a same-sex partner. All said their vote was about Thorne-Begland's political activities during his tenure as an officer in the U.S. Navy.

‘Contrary to the oath’
Rob Bell General Assembly gay rights Virginia politics Albemarle Charlottesville
Delegate Rob Bell, who represents a district near Charlottesville, said that he voted “no” on the Thorne-Begland nomination.

Bell explained that he “thought the actions [Thorne-Begland] took while an active-duty military officer were contrary to the oath of office and the Military Code of Justice and I thought the actions he took thereby meant that I did not think he would be a good judge for Virginia.”

Delegate Danny Marshall represents the city of Danville and parts of Pittsylvania and Henry counties. He also voted to block Thorne-Begland’s election.

“I’m glad you asked why,” he said.

Noting that he is not a military veteran himself, Marshall said he listened “to the passion” of fellow legislators with military backgrounds.

‘Political agenda’
“When you go into the service,” he said the veterans explained to him, “you raise your right hand and say you will not use that uniform as a sounding board for any of your political agenda. He did that. He [wasn’t] supposed to do that. My concern was, if he’s already done something that he said he would not do, would he use that court to move his political agenda forward? That’s what I was worried about.”

Danny Marshall Virginia House of Delegates gay rights
Pointing out that he is not a lawyer, Marshall continued, “judges call balls and strikes. We as the General Assembly -- we set the laws. They don’t set the laws; they don’t set the agenda. We set the agenda and let them call balls and strikes. That’s my worry -- that he would do more than call balls and strikes.”

Asked about the election of two former members of the General Assembly, Clay Athey and Bud Phillips, as judges the same day that Thorne-Begland was rejected, Marshall argued there was a difference in the kinds of political activism in the three cases.

“We vote on 3,000 or so bills each year in the General Assembly,” he said, but the two former legislators did not have one issue that motivated them.

“Clay Athey or Bud Phillips did not have one issue they were worried [about]. Again, it’s 3,000 bills or so each year, so they didn’t have that animal rights issue or whatever issue, they did not have a single issue. This gentleman had a single issue” in his background, Marshall said.

‘Certainly qualified’

Delegate Marshall conceded that, “if you looked at his résumé, he was certainly qualified to do the job. I listened to the other lawyers in Richmond [and] he’s done a heck of a job in prosecuting people” in the city of Richmond.

“I was torn with this. From that side, he’s got the skills to do the job. My worry is,” he asked, “would he use being a judge to be an activist judge?”

Delegate Charles Poindexter, now in his third term, represents parts of Franklin and Henry counties and all of Patrick County. He also voted no on the Thorne-Begland nomination.

‘Pure, poor judgment’
Charles Poindexter Virginia General Assembly gay rights
He explained that “the gentleman took an oath when he entered the United States military to uphold the constitution and all the regulations and rules of the United States military. He did not do that. He broke that oath openly, willingly, and publicly several times – not just once but several times, even on television. Anyone would have got kicked out of service for that.”

That, Poindexter said, showed “pure, poor judgment. That’s not something you do. We were there to elect him to exercise good judgment on laws and people and events and circumstances.”

The vote against Thorne-Begland, he said, “had nothing to do with what the charge is about,” that is, the nominee’s being openly gay.

Instead, Poindexter argued, “he just used pure, bad judgment, did not demonstrate the integrity and character to be a judge, and I voted no.”

Publisher's note: This article was originally published on on May 20, 2012. The publishing platform was discontinued July 1, 2016, and its web site went dark on or about July 10, 2016.  I am republishing this piece in an effort to preserve it and all my other contributions to since April 6, 2010. It is reposted here without most of the internal links that were in the original.

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