By Sam Thrift Friday, January 13, 2012The Williamsburg and York-Poquoson Bar Associations have endorsed York-Poquoson General District Judge Mike McGinty to fill the seat of Williamsburg-James Circuit Judge Samuel Powell III. However, the two groups are endorsing two different attorneys for the vacant York-Poquoson Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court seat.
According to Williamsburg Bar Association President Dan Quarles, the majority of votes cast by the 75 members of the bar association Jan. 4 were in McGinty’s favor, giving him the endorsement to fill the 9th Circuit vacancy. Before being appointed to the York-Poquoson General District seat in 2007, McGinty served as commonwealth’s attorney for Williamsburg and James City County.
Judge Powell, who has not appeared in court this month due to a knee condition, is set to retire by the end of January.
The other candidates on the ballot included WJCC General District Court Judge Colleen Killilea and attorneys Michael L. Heikes, Patricia Nagel and Susan B. Tarley, according to Quarles.
The York-Poquoson Bar Association announced they are also endorsing McGinty for the position, coming to the decision by secret ballot at the York-Poquoson Courthouse on Jan. 11, according to an email sent to members of the bar.
According to Karla Keener Atkins, president of the York-Poquoson Bar Association, should Judge McGinty move up to the Circuit Court position in Williamsburg, the bar will conduct interviews for those interested filling the General District seat and then hold a special meeting to vote by secret ballot for a candidate to endorse. The group will then let the legislature know whom they endorsed.
“We will prepare for the vacancy when it is official that Judge McGinty is moving up to the Circuit Court position,” Keener Atkins said. “As president of the York-Poquoson Bar I believe taking any action prior to that would be acting prematurely.”
The groups have different candidates for the York-Poquoson Juvenile & Domestic Relations seat, with the Williamsburg Bar selecting Sandy B. Conyers, a deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney in Williamsburg, and the York-Poquoson Bar choosing Melanie B. Economou, an assistant county attorney for York County.
Both groups selected the candidate they were endorsing by secret ballot. According to Quarles and Keener Atkins, the candidates on the Williamsburg and York-Poquoson ballots sent in a resume for bar members to review. They also had the opportunity to address the bar, as well as have people make nomination speeches, before the voting took place.
Endorsements do not ensure the chosen attorney or judge will be selected to fill the vacant seat by the General Assembly. Judge Richard AtLee’s three-year journey from presiding as the judge in the York-Poquoson Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court to gaining the Circuit Court seat is an example of how the process does not always work as expected. The Circuit Court seat remained vacant from the 2008 death of former Judge N. Prentis Smiley to last spring because Sen. Tommy Norment and Del. Tom Gear, who resigned in December 2010 for health reasons, couldn’t agree on who to nominate. In addition, the General Assembly temporarily froze funding for judicial vacancies in 2010, but reinstated funding the following year. Read about the process for deciding that judicial seat by clicking here.
Both bar associations sent letters to the legislators in the General Assembly who represent the area, informing them of their endorsements. Both the House and Senate have to elect the same candidate to fill the vacant seats.