Richmond Circuit Court judges on Thursday temporarily appointed a gay prosecutor to the bench just a month after Republicans in General Assembly successfully blocked his nomination.
Deputy Commonwealth Attorney Tracy Thorne-Begland will serve as a General District Court judge only until lawmakers return to session, probably next year. But it would be difficult for lawmakers to deny Thorne-Begland's appointment a second time since he'll already be serving as a judge in Richmond.
Thorne-Begland was the only judicial nominee rejected by the General Assembly this year. Republican lawmakers who opposed him cited his gay-rights activism. The Richmond prosecutor and decorated former Navy pilot was honorably discharged in the early 1990s after speaking against the Pentagon's “don’t ask, don’t tell” ban on gay service members serving openly.
House Republicans, led by Del. Bob Marshall, then a U.S. Senate candidate, blocked Thorne-Begland's nomination, though dozens of lawmakers either abstained or left before the vote was taken.
While lawmakers are out of session, the circuit court had the authority to fill vacancies. Thorne-Begland’s candidacy was supported by some of Richmond’s top lawyers, who sent out a letter this week urging the court to circumvent lawmakers.
Democrats applauded the decision, but have their work cut out for them this fall to keep him on the bench.
“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,” said Sen. Don McEachin, D-Henrico. “I want to thank the Circuit Court judges, my colleagues and all the many citizens who came forward to support his candidacy.”