Judge Selection Takes on Sexual Tones
Virginian-Pliot, January 17, 2003
P.O. Box 449, Norfolk, VA 23501-0449
Fax: 757 446-2051
RICHMOND—Controversies involving three judges are raising accusations
that some Republican legislators want to make judicial candidates’ attitudes
about sexual orientation a factor in whether they are reappointed.
At the center of the debate are two Virginia Beach Republicans who lead the
committees charged with interviewing new and incumbent judges. Sen. Kenneth W.
Stolle has been chairman of the Senate Courts of Justice Committee since 2000,
while Del. Robert F. McDonnell took charge of the House committee this year.
Both lawmakers strongly reject any suggestion that the legislature is
moving toward a litmus test based on judges’ personal opinions about
sexuality, much less their own sexual orientation. But the legislators say a
judge’s rulings and written opinions about sexual issues are legitimate
The three cases before the General Assembly this year bear little in common
beyond the element of sexual orientation.
. Newport News Judge Verbena M. Askew will answer questions today over
whether she did not tell lawmakers she had been accused of sexually harassing
another woman, who has been subpoenaed by legislators.
. Virginia Supreme Court Justice Barbara M. Keenan, a resident of Virginia
Beach, was questioned by legislators last week on a dissenting opinion in
which she argued against removing a child from the mother’s custody solely
because the mother is a lesbian. Keenan was unanimously re-elected this week
after legislators said they were satisfied with her explanation.
. Judge Rosemarie P. Annunziata’s reappointment to the state Court of
Appeals was delayed after she was queried about a dissenting opinion in
another case involving a lesbian mother.
Annunziata argued that the court majority applied a double standard in the
case of a child whose mother became involved in a lesbian relationship after
the break-up of her marriage. The court gave primary custody to the father,
who was in a relationship with another woman he said he planned to marry.
State senators have already approved Annunziata’s reappointment, but
delegates have asked her to return for a second interview.
The three cases have raised concerns among advocates for gay and lesbian
"This is without question a targeted effort to get rid of judges they
think are sympathetic to gay issues," said Joseph R. Price, chairman of
Some legislators say they, too, are uncomfortable.
"It appears to be more than a coincidence," said Del. Kenneth R.
Melvin, D-Portsmouth. "It seems to me there’s an inordinate curiosity
about legal opinions that touch upon sexual orientation. I worry that so many
questions have been asked in that area."
Stolle and McDonnell said Askew’s case is about accusations of misconduct
and her failure to inform them of those allegations, not her sexual
orientation. They said questions in the other two cases were appropriate, and
noted that both judges also were grilled about decisions with no sexual
"I find it almost incomprehensible that anybody would find fault with
looking at the work product of judges," McDonnell said.
Stolle noted that bills dealing with sexual orientation issues are
introduced and debated every year in the legislature. He said it should be no
surprise when such questions arise during judicial interviews.
"Sexual orientation is a pressing issue in the community today,"
he said. "But sexual orientation in my view is not something that
qualifies or disqualifies a person to be a judge in Virginia."
McDonnell declined to discuss his personal feelings on that issue, saying
it was irrelevant to the three cases before his committee.
McDonnell was quoted in a published news report this week suggesting that a
person who commits sodomy, which is illegal in Virginia, might not be
qualified to be a judge. McDonnell said Thursday his comments were
Some legislators are vehement that the state’s ban on oral and anal sex
raises serious questions about whether homosexuals should be judges.
"Homosexuality is a form of sexual misconduct that is a crime,"
said Del. Bradley P. Marrs, R-Chesterfield. "I don’t believe in the
genetic explanation of homosexuality, so to say someone is a homosexual means
that person is engaged in illegal behavior on a regular basis."
- Staff writer Warren Fiske contributed to this report. Reach Christina
Nuckols at 804-697-1562 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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