Virginia Circuit Court appoints openly gay prosecutor to interim judgeship

Tracy Thorne-Begland

Tracy Thorne-Begland

RICHMOND, Va. — The Richmond Circuit Court on Thursday appointed openly gay Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Tracy Thorne-Begland to fill one of several vacancies on the city District Court, just one month after the state’s General Assembly rejected his nomination.

The action by the Circuit Court is a temporary solution until a permanent appointment can be voted on in the next session of Virginia‘s General Assembly in January 2013.

Tracy Thorne-Begland

GOP lawmakers in the Virginia House of Delegates, led by virulently anti-gay Del. Bob Marshall (R-Prince William), blocked the judicial nomination of Thorne-Begland, a Richmond prosecutor for the past 12 years.

The conservative group The Family Foundation and Marshall argued that Thorne-Begland’s sexual orientation would conflict with his ability to hold up the state’s constitution.

The appointment Thursday of Thorne-Begland by the Circuit Court judges has infuriated Marshall.

“I think it’s highly imprudent and arrogant on their part,” said Marshall. “I hope Virginia understands what’s going on here: They’re contesting the authority of the General Assembly here. … This is an act of defiance on their part. When appointed officials get in fights with elected officials, they invariably lose.”

State Sen. Donald McEachin (D-Henrico, Va.), who supported Thorne-Begland’s initial nomination, applauded the circuit court judges “for recognizing Mr. Thorne-Begland’s skill, qualifications and competency, and putting aside bigotry, prejudice and false excuses.”

“I have always had and continue to have the utmost confidence in Mr. Thorne-Begland’s ability to serve our community and I am gratified to see that the circuit court judges share my confidence,” McEachin said.

Earlier this week, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that leaders of Richmond’s five largest law firms had urged the city’s Circuit Court judges to appoint Thorne-Begland to the bench, acknowledging however that it would be an interim appointment, lasting only until the General Assembly reconvenes.

The House of Delgates blocked Thorne-Begland’s appointment in May by a wide margin.

Thorne-Begland received 33 votes, and 31 delegates voted against him. He needed a majority of the 100-member House — 51 votes — to secure the judgeship. Ten delegates abstained and 26 others did not vote.

Thorne-Begland, who lives with his partner and two adopted children, has been an outspoken advocate of LGBT rights, particularly following his discharge from the U.S. Navy in the early 1990s under the now repealed “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy.

He has also served as a board member of Equality Virginia, an LGBT advocacy organization.

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