Last edited: January 04, 2005

Judge Hearing Stirs Backlash

Gay Republicans, Democrats upset

Richmond Times-Dispatch, January 21, 2003
Box 85333, Richmond, VA 23293-0001
Fax: 804-775-8072 or 775-8090

By Tyler Whitley and Jeff E. Schapiro, Times-Dispatch Staff Writers

General Assembly Republicans are under fire—from a little-noticed segment of their party as well as Democrats—for the political and legal travails of a Newport News judge.

A GOP group that advocates equal rights for homosexuals called on the chairman of the House courts committee to resign for politicizing the judicial appointment.

And Del. Dwight Clinton Jones, D-Richmond, accused opponents of Circuit Judge Verbena Askew yesterday of using "sexual and racial innuendo" to discredit her.

"I tremble when I think that a judge whom we appointed was summoned before us in a process that has all the markings of a prosecution," he said.

"I tremble when persons elected to positions of power use that power to drag a sitting judge through a public inquisition more worthy of another place, another time, another form of government."

The House and Senate Courts of Justice committees held an extraordinary seven-hour public hearing Friday to consider whether to reappoint Askew to another eight-year term.

They are expected to vote tomorrow.

A woman with whom Askew worked accused her of sexual harassment. Askew vigorously denied the allegation.

The city of Hampton, which was part of a regional drug court supervised by Askew, reached a $64,000 settlement with the accuser, Brenda Collins, to settle the Equal Opportunity Commission complaint.

Collins was a court administrator.

Jones, speaking on the national holiday to mark the birth of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., said 61 judges have come before the General Assembly for reappointment and only three—all women—have been singled out by the GOP majority.

Republicans, who have led the charge against the reappointment of Askew, who is black, declined to respond to Jones.

However, Republicans denied suggestions they are trying to put a conservative ideological stamp on the Virginia bench by publicly challenging judges on decisions viewed as hostile to the GOP agenda.

Meantime, the Log Cabin Republican Club of Northern Virginia, an organization of gay and lesbian activists, said Del. Robert F. McDonnell, R-Virginia Beach, should quit as House courts chairman for his "selective and vindictive use" of the anti-sodomy statutes.

McDonnell, a candidate for attorney general, invoked the statutes in the controversy surrounding Askew.

McDonnell could not be reached for comment.

The organization also said another courts panel member, Del. Bradley P. Marrs, R-Chesterfield, should abstain from voting on the Askew appointment for remarks it deemed unfair to homosexuals.

Marrs, quoted in The Virginian-Pilot last week as saying "Homosexuality is a form of sexual misconduct that is a crime," dismissed the criticism yesterday and said he plans to vote against Askew.

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