With a judicial vacancy in the Charlottesville General District Court, six attorneys made cases for why they should be appointed to the seat at a public interview Tuesday.
The interview, hosted by the Charlottesville Albemarle Bar Association, aims to help the organization to determine which candidates are “highly qualified” for the open position in the General District Court.
The interview was prompted by the retirement of William G. Barkley, a judge in Albemarle County General District Court. Charlottesville General District Court Judge Matt Quatrara will fill Barkley’s position in the county, thus leaving a vacancy in the city courts.
The six attorneys, seated in the jury box in Albemarle County Circuit Court, spoke Tuesday to a crowd of three-dozen.
The candidates are James Beard, from the Charlottesville-Albemarle Public Defender Office; Heather Carlton, an assistant U.S. attorney; David Franzén, of the Flora Petit firm; Ron Huber, a managing assistant U.S. attorney; Andrew Sneathern, an assistant commonwealth’s attorney in Nelson County; and Will Tanner, of the firm Payne & Hodous, LLP.
Despite ostensibly competing with each other for the position, the interviewees remained cordial as they answered nine questions relating to their qualifications and views on various court issues.
Each talked about the importance of a general district court judge, who has more contact with the community than a judge on any other level.
As a member of the public defender’s office and as a father, Beard said he was committed to fairness.
He said he would soon be the father of two children. One has a disability and he said he expects that his unborn child will not, which he said is a “stark reminder that the world is not a fair place.”
“Despite being imperfect, the judicial system strives to treat everyone fairly, something I am fully committed to,” he said.
Carlton said she was raised by parents who valued public service and has worked throughout her life to make a positive impact. As a federal prosecutor for the Western District in Virginia, she said she goes into communities with the goal of helping victims and addressing injustice.
“I believe in helping others and I believe in making the world a better place, as corny as that may sound coming from a stranger,” she said.
Franzén, in part, highlighted his more than three decades of legal experience, which he said gives him an understanding and appreciation for the work of a general district judge.
“I believe I have the temperament needed to be a judge and the essential knowledge as well,” he said. “We are servants of the people; the people do not serve us.”
Huber, who along with Carlton works as a U.S. attorney, said he has been interested in serving in the general district court level for a long time.
Some may look at the general district court as the lowest level, but Huber said to him it is the most important level of the justice system.
“There are an extraordinary number of people who are coming into contact with the general district court and when you add on top of that the number of people litigants are talking to — be it their family, friends or colleagues — the number becomes even more extraordinary,” he said.
Sneathern said he views being a judge as a way to serve and educate the community. As a prosecutor in Nelson county and as a defense attorney for many years beforehand, he believes he has the skills and compassion necessary to be a judge.
“Many of the people who come in contact with the court come [representing themselves] and what the person sitting on that bench is doing is giving them a chance to be heard,” he said. “Through that I hope to serve my community.”
Though he has worked over the better part of two decades as a criminal defense and civil attorney, Tanner also highlighted his time as a prosecutor in Georgia. With the wide breadth of his experience, he said he felt prepared with the knowledge and disposition to be a general district judge.
“All the parties — the judge, prosecutor, defense attorney — are there to make sure everyone is heard and has their cases dealt with properly and believe I could do that well and certainly have the necessary professional experience,” he said.
Over the course of two hours, though sometimes differing on specifics, the attorneys all expressed support for alternatives to jail, such as therapeutic dockets seen in the city and county, and agreed that it is imperative for a judge to address implicit bias and be open to criticism.
In the coming weeks, a panel of CABA members will determine which candidates they believe to be highly qualified for the position and will pass the information along to the General Assembly Courts of Justice Committees.
A nominee will eventually be selected by the committee and voted on by the whole legislature, and will then begin a six-year term on July 1.