Backlash surfaces after gay judge's appointment

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) -

Backlash is surfacing after Virginia's first openly gay judge was appointed to the bench Thursday afternoon.

The Virginia House of Delegates initially shot down Chief Deputy Commonwealth Attorney Tracy Thorne-Begland's nomination for the judgeship last month. However, Thursday afternoon, Circuit Court judges selected him for the bench, in a temporary position.

For Thorne-Begland and his supporters, the appointment is perhaps vindication for what they say has been a struggle against discrimination. However, opponents said Thorne-Begland's gay rights activism while serving in the military, and his political contributions, aren't in line with the temperament of an impartial judge.

Richmond Commonwealth Attorney Mike Herring said his office erupted in cheer and applause when learning of their colleague's appointment.

"We (Thorne-Begland and Herring) found out together, which is a good thing. He was happy. He was humbled. He was moved, and I was too," said Herring.

However, opponents of the openly gay prosecutor also spoke out. House Republican leaders wrote in a statement, "Our disappointment has nothing to do with the particular candidate in question...The Richmond Circuit Court... is substituting their judgment for that of the General Assembly."

Delegate Bob Marshall has been one of the most vocal lawmakers against Thorne-Begland's nomination.

"The law allows Circuit Court judges to act stupidly. And in this case, I think they did," said Marshall.

Marshall said Begland's gay rights activism in the military, regarding the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy, disobeyed orders. He also raised issue with Thorne-Begland's political contributions to Senator Donald McEachin, D-Henrico, and Delegate Manoli Loupassi, two of Thorne-Begland's strongest supporters.

"It looks kind of sleazy to the public then the same people you donate money to are out there pushing your nomination," added Marshall. 

Marshall said he plans on introducing a bill next month that would ban lawmakers from voting on judicial nominees if those nominees, or their immediate family, donated money to the legislator's campaign.

Senator Donald McEachin said regardless of any minor donation, Thorne-Begland has proven himself overly qualified for the judgeship.

"I think Bob (Marshall) is having a fit of sour grapes. He has got his phobias," said Senator McEachin.

Thursday's appointment is far from the final decision in the matter. Next year, the General Assembly will vote again in whether to approve Thorne-Begland's stay on the bench.

"My expectation is that he will be gone from my office permanently," said Herring.

Tracy Thorne-Begland released a brief statement saying he was humbled by the appointment. He is set to be sworn in the first week of July.

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By CapitalBay Online 06/14/2012 23:51:00